Nintendo’s famous mustachioed video game plumber, Super Mario, has been long considered an icon of the video gaming world. Ever since his debut in Donkey Kong in 1981, which would be followed up by the Mario Bros. arcade in 1983 and most famously, the NES smash hit Super Mario Bros. of 1985, his adventures have made him into a recognizable feature across many video game sections, magazines, and even pop culture references. However, one place where he’s had obscurity is in the theatrical world. In North America, his only appearance was in a 1993 box office disaster which featured bad costume interpretations and what Bob Hoskins, the actor for Mario, commented as the worst performance of his Hollywood career. Even more in Japan, a new animated film based on his character is set to come out in fall of 2022. However, what most people would overlook is that Mario already made his anime movie debut long before news of this film became public; and with that, we’ll take a look at this story.
THE SUPER MARIO ANIME MOVIE
The movie, whose official title is Super Mario Bros: The Quest To Rescue Princess Peach, came out almost 35 years ago on 20 July 1986. Mushi Pro veterans Masami Hata and Hideo Takayashiki were responsible for leading the movie’s development, and it was created in conjunction with Nintendo and Grouper Productions, who handled a good chunk of the promotional advertising for the movie (coloring books, ramen packets, watches, cameras, phone cards galore). Patrons who saw this movie in theatres were lucky enough also to receive a video guide for the latest Mario game to hit the NES (known as the Famicom in Japan), Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels – arguably the hardest Mario game ever developed on that system.
This film, alongside Hudson Soft’s Running Boy: Star Soldier which was released on the same day, is the first one based on a video game franchise. It predated other video game flicks such as Sonic The Hedgehog (1996; 10 years), Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994; 8 years), Mirai Ninja (1988; 2 years) and Pokemon: The First Movie (1998; 12 years), which itself is a testament to Nintendo’s dominance in its early days as an up-and-coming video game publisher. Despite this recognition, it did not make much waves across the animation world, receiving no awards or nominations, and VHS copies of the film are extremely limited due to the publisher, Shochiku‘s Japan-only nature. Fortunately, both Masami Hata and Hideo Takayashiki would end up working on successful projects such as Inuyasha and Ashita No Joe respectively, and the film is available to watch on Youtube with subtitles; so if you’re still interested in this film after what you’ve read, the link’s in this description.
The story revolves around Mario and
discount Wario Luigi, two brothers who own a grocery shop. One night, while Mario is playing with himself on the NES, Princess Peach pops out of the television screen, followed by Bowser who is actively trying to pursue her and make into his wife. He easily overpowers Mario, kidnaps the Princess, and sets the stage for the movie’s story. Before she leaves however, she leaves him with an emerald necklace as a memento. The next morning, Mario, still hungover his failure to defend the Princess, laments his loss while Luigi tries to cheer him up with financial prospects. Not long after, a dog walks into their store and steals the aforementioned necklace, which prompts the brothers to chase him into a warp pipe which takes them to the war-torn Mushroom Kingdom, where they meet with a white-robed wizard. From here, he bestows upon them the call to adventure: recover the Triforce (no, not the one from Legend Of Zelda) of a Super Star, Fire Flower, and Super Mushroom, defeat Bowser and his reign of terror, and restore the Princess to her throne.
Mario and Luigi happily accept this offer and embark on their journey across the Mushroom Kingdom. Along the way, they run into several areas and various troubling scenarios: in a field of mushrooms, they are scooped up by a giant flying turtle (Paratroopa) who tries to make them into her children’s’ dinner, only for Mario to thwart them and acquire a Super Mushroom encased in a block of ice, freeing a contingent of trapped Mushroom Kingdom citizens along the way. During their stay in a flowery field, an army of Piranha Plants swarms them, and a Lakitu attacks them by chucking spiny turtles in their direction; fortunately, Mario overpowers his opponent and uses its machine to freeze away the remaining spiny turtles, gainig a Fire Flower in the process. Finally, in their last trial they escape from a dungeon filled with (fake) gold nuggets, go underwater to escape their captors, acquire the Super Star from a giant oyster, and escape via flying boat which leads them to Bowser’s castle. Mario, now armed with all three parts of the Triforce, begins to undertake his final heroic act.
At Bowser’s castle, Princess Peach manages to trap Bowser in a box after tricking him to win over her love with comedy, but this ruse works temporarily as he outsmarts her and takes her away to their purported wedding ceremony. The brothers interrupt the ceremony, but Bowser escapes to another room, forcing them to navigate through Bowser’s various traps to reach him. When Mario finds himself trapped in a fiery room with moving platforms, Luigi comes to his rescue by accidentally triggering a money/water leak in the castle, causing it to collapse. This sets the stage for Bowser and Mario’s final bout; although Bowser outnumbers him in strength, Mario successfully uses the power-ups to defeat Bowser, chuck him a la Super Mario 64 style, and free the Princess from his wrath.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the dog partner which accompanied Mario and Luigi in their journey turns out to be a prince – and what’s more, Princess Peach’s fiancée. Mario, although disheartened, professes his happiness at her own marriage, pledges loyalty to serve the Mushroom Kingdom when duty calls, and afterwards departs with Luigi back to the overworld to resume their grocery store owner duties once more – with an apparently reformed Bowser and his minions serving under them.
WHAT I LIKED
- True to its origins, the movie preserves the cartoony feel of the famous video game; the main characters are present, the power-ups and enemies that make notice in the game are more enhanced here, and the adventure is satisfying to watch, even if underwhelming and corny on some occasions.
- Before I forget too, the visuals of the Mushroom Kingdom were quite surprisingly detailed for their time, and although stylistically it’s no different than Super Mario Bros. Super Show, it definitely has more going for it here.
- Story-wise, it’s straightforward and the continuity is there. Mario and Luigi are simply going on a straight-line adventure to rescue Princess Peach from an evil dragon, while collecting some powerups along the way. The challenges they face were fitting for them, but despite that they were able to prevail fearlessly against them, thus securing their legacy.
- I admit it’s pretty clever to start the film with Mario playing on his original creators’ video game system, long before The Wizard tried something like that. There’s no better way to promote your flagship product without a movie doing the leg work for you!
WHAT I DISLIKED
- Though the film is made early into the Mario lore, I can’t quite help but be annoyed in hindsight by how off-touch Luigi’s color scheme is. I can forgive the purple overalls because they look very much blue, but yellow seems like a very far-fetched pick for him. It’s weird to see him in anything but green considering how in the video game he’s still got that color scheme tied to him.
- Speaking of which, Luigi’s role in the film was less of an action hero and more of an accompaniment role alongside Mario, apart from that one scene in Bowser’s castle where he indirectly helps him out of a funk by generating that pool of money and water. I was hoping that the film would be something like Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga where the two of them team up to pwn their enemies, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.
- The ending, as most have commented, was quite pointless seeing how Mario goes through all that trouble to rescue the princess, but in the end doesn’t get the girl. Though intended to be a happy ending, it felt more like a downer . It would have been better if they ended it with Mario and Luigi getting some kind of big monetary reward from the Princess; that way, Mario would have been pleased, Luigi would be ecstatic out of their mind, and peace returning to the Mushroom Kingdom with everyone else living happily ever after.
The film offers a very primitive glimpse into how Mario and Luigi’s original character depictions in Japan were like. Compared to North America’s Super Mario Bros. Super Show, where Mario is a gruff Italian plumber, and Luigi his fragile younger sibling, this movie has Luigi as more courageous, with his sights set on getting rich, while Mario retains a more lighter, yet equally as determined personality. Meanwhile, Bowser takes on the role of a comic relief villain; while he’s very intimidating when engaging in a fight, we also get to see a soft side of him, when turns into silly caricatures of himself as a scarecrow or ballerina. Perhaps the only character who truly retains a noticeable personality is Princess Peach with her dignified, girly, damsel-in-distress behavior, or the prince dog, who turns out has a name, Haru. It’s quite interesting to see how differently these two were originally portrayed as, let alone giving them voice where modern video games have largely deprived them of such features other than “Let’s go!” or the more famous “Mamma mia!”.
The good thing about the movie is that because it’s designed to feel like a video game, the producers did everything in their power to make sure the classic soundtracks of the Super Mario Bros. video game – such as the famous overworld, underwater, sewer, and castle level themes, alongside the final ending song – were included. However, also packaged were a trilogy of Japanese vocal themes such as Doki Doki Do It from the mid-battle journey montages, Crystal Ball from their ride to Bowser’s castle, and Adieu My Love from the end credits. In my opinion, the songs themselves weren’t that bad, but were a bit unusual to include in a Mario film, especially the latter two songs by Miya Yamase – I get that Mario and Princess Peach were the “romance” of the film, but the orchestration was just strangely placed for an adventure film. Doki Doki Do It slaps though, and works well as the film’s main adventure theme.
Favorite character: I have to go with Luigi for this one. I’ve always been leaning towards him instead of Mario ever since childhood, and his greedy demeanor was quite a change compared to his typical depiction as a scaredy-cat fellow. Had this film been released during the time of Super Mario World though, Yoshi might have been included, and this section might have been written differently.
Favorite moment: It’s always fun to watch the montages of Mario, Luigi and the dog walking across the Mushroom Kingdom worlds and see what they’re up to – Mario beating up enemies along his path or the sight of Luigi robbing towns of their treasures. Having this part pretty much enhances the film’s video game-like appeal, and reminds me of how good the original game was a joy to play with.
Favorite quote: There aren’t a lot of notable quotes from this film, apart from exposition or battle-related remarks, but Mario’s reaction after realizing that Princess Peach was engaged to someone else hits close to home.
I’m so happy that you’re happy, Princess Peach.Mario after realizing his princess will be in another castle with another guy
Overall, the film isn’t anything special. The story, while simple, is at times way too condensed to make anything worth out of it – but then again I guess you can’t really fault the developers when the only source material is a game where all you have to do is run right and jump over enemies. Mario and Luigi’s personalities are more refined compared to their modern interpretation, and combined with some nice animation, really adds to the film’s colorful repertoire. If you were a big fan of the classic-style Mario games then you might find yourself relating well with this movie, since it’s a decent, but not a masterpiece, introduction to what would become Nintendo’s biggest money-making scheme since playing cards. I liked it, but being honest, it’s a far cry from other films with similar premises.