What could the movie Mario learn from the cartoon?
Despite being the face of video games for the past few decades, Mario has only appeared onscreen a few times over the years. Among these few attempts, the one that stands out as a dead end is still that of 1989 Awesome Super Mario Bros. Show
Super Mario Bros. Super Show was one of many planned collaborations between Nintendo and DIC Enterprises, which also produced THE Legend of Zelda cartoon. The two were actually released as a single block of programming, with planned adaptations of several other classic video games including Metroid and Castlevania who tragically never saw the liberation.
32 years after the show’s one and only season, the Great show is an absolutely bizarre thing to see. A time capsule of the exact moment of the children’s programming she portrayed, sharing her dated presentation with Sonic underground and Mega man. The show’s format featured brief asides with live-action versions of Mario Bros. styled like a multi-camera sitcom, before moving on to the cartoon. These live-action sequences are a bit absurd, often featuring celebrity cameos posing as the brothers helping them during a plumbing disaster. Only about five minutes per episode are spent on the live action pieces, they squeeze the more central cartoon book.
Little of a narrative existed in the Mario universe before this series, in fact there is little to date, but the series has developed a backstory for its events. Mario and Luigi are plumbers from Brooklyn who fall through a frustrating gray pipe while on the job, landing them in the Mushroom Kingdom. Once there, they begin to help Princess Toadstool and her bodyguard Toad free her people from King Koopa. They usually achieve this through slapstick comedy, game enhancements, the occasional application of plumbing skills, and a downright ridiculous number of references to Italian cuisine.
The cast of the next film received some weird looks, but this series also made some pretty wild choices. Mario’s very first on-screen performer was WWF icon “Capt” Lou Albano. Albano is a fantastic Mario, years before Charles Martinet defined the character’s voice as we know it today. He brings an exceptional sense of fun to the character, and his husky voice sells the iteration of the New York plumber turned hero of a magical land series. Alongside Albano is Danny Wells as Luigi, which sparks the cowardice and serious ambition of the big brother. These actors might be criticized for their technique, but their performances have an authentic heart that would be hard to match with stuntmen ready to take on their roles.
A real big lesson from Great show is its soundtrack and background music. Aside from its theme song, a slightly embarrassing late ’80s rap track, the series is overwhelmingly composed of remixed iterations of classic game music. The music is cleverly placed to fit the scenes, creating an audio link to the games fans love. Illumination studios have a habit of hiring famous pop musicians to create their movie soundtracks when they’re not just filling the score with the top 40 hits out there. Hopefully they can incorporate some of Mario’s iconic music, or at least create a score inspired by the wonderful orchestral soundtracks of recent games.
Today, most players are familiar with the general cast personalities of Mario Bros., but those characteristics weren’t really present until the Great show presented them. Mario, the clumsy food-driven hero. Luigi, the cowardly but good-natured sidekick. Princess Toadstool, the willful leader, often sidelined but never silenced. King Koopa enjoys some of the best characterizations, as a villain who truly reveled in his role. Those character traits are set in stone at this point, but the next film would do well to delve into the characterization of the series that invented many traits that fans know and love today.
With Illumination at the helm, the Mario movie is almost guaranteed to be a comedic flick with a few light action elements, like almost everything they’ve produced. The Great showThe sense of humor is very hit and miss. It’s very clever at times, riffing on the character’s identifiable traits and the inherent absurdity of the world. Unfortunately, it often relies far too much on non-sequitur nonsense and references to the brothers’ love of Italian cuisine. When it works, it brings a special kind of fun to a whimsical universe, and hopefully the movie will find that solid comedy core that can make a Mario movie enjoyable. The action, on the other hand, will not be inspired by the Great show, which leaned extremely hard on the plumbing aspect of the character which is largely ignored by modern iterations. Enlightenment will have to find a new way to make Mario’s limited arsenal fun and engaging on screen.
For a spectacle as bizarre and old-fashioned as the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, there is a huge amount about how to adapt such an iconic brand. Hopefully the next film uses the special performances, iconic music, identifiable characters, and solid understanding of comedy illustrated by a cartoon ahead of its time.
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