They say that comedy lives in the wide shot: the distance that allows you to see the whole person, the whole room they're in, and also gives the perspective and remove to make to emphasize with that person juuuust a little less. The "they" in question who said the quote was Charlie Chaplin, a man who knows comedy.
One of his contemporaries was Buston Keaton, who I like more. Check out his work below, compared to Mario. There's a claim that Keaton's work "inspired" Mario, which I don't really buy. The Keaton clip (from Seven Chances, remade as the Chris O'Donnell Experience -- er, The Bachelor) is a comical chase scene. Keaton pulls his cameras far away so we can see everything that's happening. Doesn't look like to many shots laid down tracks and dollied horizontally, which is what you would do to replicate Mario.
I bring this up because Paris, France has a video game exhibit goin' on right now, and in this write-up they describe Super Mario Bros. as being "loosely inspired" by Buster Keaton's film. I don't see it, myself.
Final note: when I interviewed Shigeru Miyamoto, I asked him if Mario was bald. (Because he wears a hat all the time.) He wasn't bald, Miyamoto said, but his mustache didn't match the hair on his head: the mustache is darker. Perhaps he's been dying his hair, he told me, sotto voce. Also, he thought, maybe it was time to update Mario's mustache. "Maybe a small mustache, like Charlie Chaplin," he said.
So maybe there's something to the silent-movie theory after all. Miyamoto's a fan!