Retro Flashback: Super Mario Bros. Cartoons

Hey, paisanos! Remember the time when video games were often made into cartoon shows? I don’t because I wasn’t born early enough to witness the 80’s, but that’s beside the point. During that decade Nintendo’s very own Super Mario Bros. series has been subject to quite a bit of televised media. Believe it or not, Nintendo themselves are no strangers to the concept; characters from Donkey Kong have appeared in an hour-long cartoon programming block centered around arcade games named Saturday Supercade.

Image result for saturday supercade dk

We’re not going to discuss that though, we’ll instead be going over the cartoon adaptations of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Bizarrely, the earliest example of animated media for it is a Japan-only anime movie named Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach. Now, when anyone thinks “Mario movie”, they may most likely be thinking of the live-action movie released in 1993.

Image result for super mario bros movie

However, the 1986 film, The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach, is animated, and therefore has more in common with the video games. It’s a sillier fantasy adventure flick that details the Mario Bros.’s adventure as they rescue Peach from Bowser. There’s a lot of unique elements to this one. Luigi is seen as a greedy and optimistic person while Mario is no-nonsense character and feels destined to defeat Bowser. There are also strange oddities such as Toads being mysterious females by nature and a dog named Kibidango accompanying the Mario Bros. along the quest.

Image result for great mission to rescue princess peach

When the movie gets more comedic, however, it tends to take a turn too loose. What is actually funny is watching Mario being addicted to playing his Famicom at the beginning of the film. It’s also endearing to see Bowser try and entertain Peach while she’s far from happy with being kidnapped. What aren’t quite as (intentionally) funny are ….well, instances like this.

Image result for great mission to rescue princess peach

Some weird things happen along the way, but The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach is an interesting (and fun to a good degree) historical curiosity. A shame that it’s extremely hard to try watching any original copies the movie; it’s certainly one of the rarer pieces of Mario media. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed if they happen to come across it. The writing (should you understand Japanese) isn’t really top-notch, and there are things that happen for no real reason, but it boasts interesting characteristics and is quite the novelty. That is, unlike the following.

Image result for super mario super show

Oh, the Super Mario Bros. Super Show…this has been such a guilty pleasure of mine for so many years. When I was a lot younger, I had countless DVDs that were bulk sets of episodes from this show. I guess you could say kids can certainly eat this stuff up! Watching it at my current age, however, I can very easily see every single issue that the cartoon carries. As the first Mario cartoon for western audiences, it does try doing a lot with the first two Super Mario Bros. games as the only available resources for Mario material at the time. It’s just a shame the setting improvisation fails for the grand majority of the show’s duration.

Image result for mario super show star koopa

Every episode features Mario, Luigi, Peach (aka Princess Toadstool), and Toad going to some really surreal place that may or may not be a part of the Mushroom Kingdom. The show never really goes into detail on why the locations are the way they are, but it does focus on Bows-I mean King Koopa attempting to either wreak havoc on the place or kidnap Peach. Some of the locations (and episode titles for that matter) would parody movie series like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, further adding to the confusion of how Super Show‘s world works.

Image result for mario super show brooklyn bound

Characters also have a tendency to fall into uncanny valley. There are one-time new characters introduced in most, if not all, of the episodes. Some are appropriate additions to the show, others look like they’re from a completely different cartoon. Worse, some would be animated without certain basic features and no character would ever comment on that. In the above screenshot, the Toad with the sunglasses has no pants on while everyone else is wearing something up to his and her hips. This is never addressed by anybody. Another episode has a character that has no face, yet somehow talks to Mario and friends and nobody ever acknowledges that he has no face!

Image result for mario super show indiana joe

As you could probably tell by now, the lack of consistency is a major issue with Super Show as a whole. This is without even addressing the quality of the writing! So how is that aspect? Well, it certainly isn’t any better. All of the characters are supreme idiots that can find themselves in a dire situation because they’re too stupid to do or say the right thing that could avert the trouble. The best example of this is the episode featuring the one-time villain “Queen Rotunda”. Mario and his friends pull out peppers from the Queen’s yard, thinking they are growing wild despite the area being behind fences. Guards present them to Rotunda, and after she threatens to execute them, Mario explains that the solution to her problem is…Hot pepper pistachio ice cream.

Image result for mario super show love em and leave em

Not only does that not make sense whatsoever with or without context, but Queen Rotunda accepts and allows them to make the ice cream for her. After having a bite, she finds the ice cream too hot and begs for water. Rather than doing that, Mario just so happens to find a love potion lying around the throne room and has her drink that. Now Rotunda has an explicit crush on Mario she prepares a wedding with Luigi, Peach, and Toad thrown in the dungeon.So how much sense did that make to you? I thought so.

There are also lots of animation errors! It’s not like they only last a single frame. They are as noticable as they could possibly be! Here’s one of Luigi’s hat being colored red and Mario speaking Luigi’s line.

Image result for super mario super show gif

Yeah, the animation is pretty darn cheap. It does a fine job of presenting any sort of world and cast of characters onscreen, but you could easily make a drinking game out of all the errors and pacing issues in the show.

That said, there are some positive things to say about it all.

While nearly all of the characters suffer from being one-note and idiotic, I do have to give some props to King Koopa. This portrayal is way more vile than the Bowser gamers typically know! In Super Show, King Koopa is a sarcastic dictator that’s prone to trolling the crap out of the Mario Bros. He has armies of baddies he can send on a whim to cause trouble and capture victims. Whenever he’s getting the short end of the stick he could always warp to another destination with a Warp Potion that spawns a magic doorway.

Another thing to admire is that since Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 are totally different games, the production crew managed to make a compromise and added both of the games’ enemies and elements together and carefully aligned them to certain subtle properties. Enemies from the latter are never stomped on, for example. As appreciated as those design choices could be, I find myself thinking more about the live-action segments of Super Mario Bros. Super Show more than the animated episodes.

Image result for super mario super show live action

Yep! There are live-action portions of this otherwise-cartoon. Portrayed by Captain Lou Albano and Danny Wells (who did the voices for Mario and Luigi in the animated parts as well), the Mario Bros. go about daily life as plumbers in Brooklyn, presumably before they found themselves in the Mushroom Kingdom. Much like the animations, there would always be some sort of random guest appearing on the set for no explicable reason. The guests range from Sgt. Slaughter, Magic Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, and other celebrities to stereotypical Dracula, Rip Van Winkle, and mysterious fortune teller lady personas.

Image result for super mario super show live action gif

While things still don’t make too much sense, the live action portions are far more watchable than the cartoon segments. There’s something about the setup that intrigues a lot more than a romp in some random surreal area. Mario tends to be a ditz a lot of the time but Luigi plays the role of a straight man and deadpan snarker to balance out the oddness (even if there are times where he ends up being sucked into it himself). If the writing flowed a lot better and featured new characters not so sporadically, I think a Mario Bros. sitcom could work pretty darn well. I’d watch the heck out of it!

Alas, the live action segments ceased to continue while the animated series transitions to the awkwardly titled successor, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. Naturally, this was to tie in with the release of the NES game.

Image result for the adventures of super mario bros. 3

It does a lot of the same things that Super Mario Bros. Super Show did, but this time the stories are usually set directly in Super Mario Bros. 3‘s take on the Mushroom Kingdom. The world as a result is a lot more consistent, with areas from the video game like Desert Land and Sky Land getting their fair share of the spotlight. Oddly, it also contrasts with a few things established in Super Show; whereas that show explains Mario and Luigi can’t go back to Brooklyn, Super Mario Bros. 3 has a few episodes that feature pipes that allow characters to enter our world and back. Even more confusing is that our world is literally called “the real world” in the show itself. So what does that make the Mushroom Kingdom?

Image result for the adventures of super mario bros. 3

Character-wise, there are a fair share of improvements made. While Captain Lou and Danny Wells were charming as the Mario Bros., Walker Boone and Tony Rosato made for much better voices for Mario and Luigi respectively. The characters in particular have improved traits. While Super Show had Mario as a food-obsessed glutton that can sometimes fear King Koopa, Super Mario 3 has him as more of a no-nonsense adventurer. As for Luigi, whereas he was sort of a skeptical coward in the Super Show, he…….uh…….

Image result for mario 3 babysitting luigi

Well now. Luigi’s Mansion this ain’t!

Luigi still plays second fiddle to Mario and is a bit of a skeptic, but his cowardice is nowhere to be found here surprisingly enough! Meanwhile Peach and Toad are pretty much the exact same as they were before but the former has a better voice actor as well. King Koopa would be the same except now he has the Koopalings to take care of as well. Because the official names for the Koopalings had yet to exist by the time this show aired, it gave them names that are completely different from the game canon. They are Cheatsy (Larry), Big Mouth (Morton), Kootie Pie (Wendy), Bully (Roy), Hip (Lemmy), Hop (Iggy), and Kooky (Lidwig). They can get on his nerves but are otherwise his henchmen. What I think is funny about this is that they made it extremely clear that King Koopa is their dad; pretty funny in hindsight now that Shigeru Miyamoto considers the Koopalings to not be his children.

Image result for smb3 koopa kids cartoon

That stuff is all fine and good, but the writing is still pretty trashy. There’s at least 99% less repeated phrases this time around (The “Holy raviolis” and “Leapin’ lasagnas” will not be missed whatsoever), but the rest of the dialogue is still either following the motions or pure nonsense. There are some very stupid plots that go beyond comprehension. For example, Peach and Kootie Pie are both big fans of Milli Vanilli. This episode in particular was unfortunate enough to air after the infamous lip-syncing scandal broke out and destroyed the band’s reputation.

Image result for smb3 milli vanilli

But let’s look at something less trivial. There’s also an episode where King Koopa overtakes America and warps the White House to the bottom of the Mushroom Kingdom’s ocean. Mario uses the Frog Suit to dive down there, rushes into the White House, and… you know what? I’ll just show you what happens. It’s much easier than telling. I will just ask you this: How many logic errors do you see when watching this clip?

The last thing I’d like to mention about Super Mario Bros. 3 is that they decided to shoehorn songs in most of the episodes. The singers are wonky for the sake of children’s entertainment and the songs themselves add nothing to the plot. I don’t even think they’re even relevant to the story either. They are literally just attached to the animation for the sake of having songs.

Oh, and there’s a lot more animation errors! I’ll just leave you with this as I move on to Super Mario World.

Image result for super mario bros. 3 cartoon errors

So yeah, they made one more show. Appropriately enough, it’s based on the smash hit SNES game. Super Mario World handles things in a lot of the same ways that Super Mario Bros. 3 had. This time, however, things feel a lot more dull. At this point, it’s become glaringly clear the writers ran out of ideas. Most episodes see Mario and company attempt to replicate something from their everyday lives for the Dinosaur World to experience. They’ve tried inventing the wheel, telephone lines, football, Christmas, school, and so on. Heck, even King Koopa does the same thing by providing televisions, circuses, and fast food joints. However, since King Koopa is the bad guy, he has to do something to metaphorically ask Mario to defeat him in the episode.

Image result for super mario world cartoon

Toad has been replaced by not one, but two poor substitutes. One of them (Yoshi) has an annoying voice, speaks in the third person, and is treated like a baby. The other (Oogtar – the blonde cave boy) has an annoying voice, is bratty, speaks in the third person, and often gets himself into trouble. Pick your poison.

Image result for super mario world oogtar

That’s pretty much all I have to say about this one. It’s like Super Mario Bros. 3, only with the Dinosaur World setting, Yoshi and Oogtar instead of Toad, and with boring slice of life plots replacing actual adventures for the most part. It didn’t even last more than thirteen episodes before it got the axe.

Image result for super mario world mama luigi gif

Yet, even in spite of just how laughably bad these Mario cartoon shows are, there’s a rather intriguing novelty appeal o them. Sometimes it’s worth watching them just to see what kinds of crazy nonsense appears onscreen. Other times it could be for drinking games that count up how many animation or logic errors can be spotted. Heck, maybe kids will genuinely like them because of how Mario and friends are cartoon stars! I know I was once guilty of that! Now that I’m older and have an actual standard for cartoons, though, I would only come back to these for the unintentional hilarity they often bring.

Share this article: