[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
Last time, I discussed the video game crash of 1983-1985 and its potential causes. One of those reasons had been an influx in gaming systems, allowing too much competition. Again, one of those competing systems was a platform called the ColecoVision. Now, one of ColecoVision's most famous titles was that of Donkey Kong, released New Years Eve 1982. This game was the first platformer to include jumping and, as such, is considered the first true platformer and the originator of the genre as it is today. Though it didn't start with Coleco.
Nintendo wanted some characters they could market over multiple games, so they took a look at Popeye (brute steals girlfriend, hero has to save) and became inspired. In the game, the main character, Jumpman, must save his pink-dressed, blonde-haired girlfriend. Now, with computer animation being relatively new at the time, animators found it tricky how to get the little guy to move right. They couldn't draw a mouth, so a mustache was put there instead; hair was hard, so they put a cap on him; and they couldn't see his arms move, so colored overalls it was. They also eventually renamed the girlfriend and Jumpman after people they knew or who had helped them, giving them the names Pauline and Mario, respectively. The game became wildly popular in the arcade and was eventually sold to Coleco for home console porting.
Popularity was intense, so a spin-off entitled Mario Bros. was developed. Mario now had a brother, Luigi, and though Mario was originally a carpenter, he was made a plumber due to his look and location. The game was about the two brother plumbers who must save New York after strange creatures start coming out of the sewer pipes. But bouncing around and attacking enemies from below was too easy, so the concept of just knocking them onto their backs and kicking them away was born. What kind of creatures came from that idea? Turtles, as their shells made it easy for them to get stuck on their backs.
Although released during the crash, the game was popular enough not to be affected. And so a sequel was called for, which was also to be used as a swan song for the Famicom (the Japanese name for the NES). Enter... Super Mario Bros. for the NES. And now, the turtles could be stomped on, since they just felt flipping them first would be illogical. They also wanted Mario to be able to change sizes, so while looking into ancient folk lore, they discovered stories where people would walk into forests and eat magical mushrooms. Thus, the mushrooms and the Mushroom Kingdom were born. The game was released in 1985, along with the NES itself (in America), and helped save the video game industry from the crash.
The game's popularity skyrocketed, and Japan wanted to release a film immediately to cash in on the success. On July 20, 1986, they released an anime movie in Japanese theaters. The film was called Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen (or, roughly translated, Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!). Nobody knows how well it did or anything like that. The film was never released in another language, nor was it released on DVD. It's also almost impossible to find on VHS, making it one of the rarest movies in the world.
However, you can find fan-made subtitled and dubbed versions on YouTube. And that's how I saw it.
(Note: It's come to my attention that some of the following problems I had with this film are more than likely translation errors. Whoever made the translations on YouTube apparently did so poorly, causing for at least some of the confusion I had with the story.)
Holy Hell is this movie weird. I'm serious. The game itself makes more logical sense. There's no way a formal review can do this justice. So in that light, I'm going to do a Jason Soto-style review where I take you through the movie and give my thoughts as we go.
The movie begins with Mario playing a video game similar to Super Mario Bros., but with a couple differences here and there. Luigi comes in and complains a few times, but leaves him alone. And then... out of nowhere... Princess Peach and a bunch of the monsters from the Mario games fly out of the TV. Peach proclaims she's being attacked by Bowser, who is trying to take over her Mushroom Kingdom. Then Bowser himself bursts through and kidnaps the princess back into the game, leaving Mario in a panic. But he finds her necklace on the floor and takes it.
So you know how Mario and Luigi are supposed to be plumbers? Well, despite being referenced as such later in the movie, they work at a grocery store. You see them with a customer, but then Luigi notices the necklace... and this is where things stop making sense. Luigi states that the necklace belongs to the Mushroom Kingdom where they will be able to find a ton of treasure. (Luigi is a greedy spaz in this film.) So I guess the video game world and the real world exist in the same universe? But earlier, Luigi thought Mario was insane for saying Princess Peach had shown up asking for help, etc., since she's just a video game character.
Anyway, a centipede dog thing shows up, steals the necklace, and causes the brothers to chase after him. They chase him to this field full of pipes... which are there for no reason. Just empty pipes laying around. They end up going down one of the pipes after the centipede dog and travel to the magical universe of the Mushroom Kingdom... which I guess ISN'T part of their own world. Because they meet this old hermit guy who tells them they are the legendary heroes who will save the princess. Why are they the chosen legendary heroes? Because they play video games and can thus find treasure better. I kid you not. There's no telling of a prophecy or a magic book that speaks of their greatness. They just know about the Mario Bros. and know they are the legendary heroes... because they play video games. Anyway, they have to find the mushroom of growth, the fire flower, and the invincibility star in order to defeat Bowser.
So they start on their journey (with the centipede dog tagging along), where we have our first of many montage sequences. They're spotted by a couple Goombas as they rest for the night. The Goombas trick Luigi into eating some mushrooms... which he basically gets stoned off of. Again... no joke. They alter his emotions. Then a flying turtle kidnaps them and tries to feed them to its bird children. But while they're in the nest, Mario spots a crystallized mushroom. He climbs the tree to get it, releasing it... but also gets showered by a bunch of coins that spray from the tree. They fall to the ground... and the coins turn into female versions of Toad (or Toadettes). They thank the brothers for freeing them and give Mario the growth mushroom, then give him a kiss on the cheek.
Begin another montage full of bizarre imagery that has Mario using the mushroom to fight against stuff (like bullets and koopa troopas). But the Goombas from earlier followed them and give them bad directions, leading them into a forest of the man-eating plants. They quickly escape, though... but I guess because three of the plants got tangled up, the entire forest sinks into the ground? I'm not sure how that works.
But they're not out of trouble yet, as a turtle-in-a-cloud shows up and throws spikes at them for trespassing. He waters the spikes and gives them light so they turn into the giant spiky turtles. But Mario sits on a growing vine and flies into the air where he grabs onto a piece of the cloud and rips it off. He starts to control the weather with it and makes it snow. The enemies below (who have surrounded Luigi and centipede dog) are bored waiting for Mario to do something. Everybody gets covered in snow. But then the snow melts and everything turns to grass and flowers and the cloud turns into another Toadette. Um... yeah. The Toadette gives him a fire flower.
Cue montage. Mario uses fireball powers. They break some stone boxes to get coins and some boxes of ramen noodles with labels that have their faces on them... still with me? The Goombas then trap them in a cave, and it's at this point we switch perspectives for a minute. Now we're with Peach and Bowser. Peach is angry and wants to be set free, but Bowser just wants to marry her. In fact, he has a little school-boy crush on her and loves her. To show this, he transforms into different weird things. Peach tries to get him to turn into a teddy bear and trap him in a box, but it doesn't work.
Back in the cave, Luigi digs an escape while Mario daydreams about dancing with Peach. They barely escape the hammer-throwing turtle and find the invincibility star. But it falls into the water. Mario and centipede dog jump in after it. Amazingly, Mario can breath and talk just fine underwater. He looks around for the star while being chased by inflatable fish. He finds it in a clam, but gets trapped inside, so the centipede dog has to tickle it to release Mario, and they swim off. But they're chased again and escape into an old sunken ship that starts to rise out of the water. Then they're attacked by a giant squid, so they blow air (despite being underwater) to make the sail push them out. They finally escape, grab Luigi, and sail off... um... into the sky. But it does eventually come back down onto the water.
The wedding ceremony starts, but Mario and Luigi arrive just in time. Bowser escapes further into his castle with Peach, leading the others to chase after him. You can imagine the weird things they have to avoid while following (WHY would somebody have a room with a lava pit and elevating platforms? What purpose does that otherwise serve?). But Luigi accidentally floods the place while looking for more gold coins, which somehow causes the entire castle to collapse. But Bowser attacks Mario in the rubble. Mario goes to eat the invincibility star to fight back, but some food randomly appears out of nowhere to distract him, and he drops the star to eat the noodles. But then Luigi shows up with the star.
Long story short here, Mario eats the gold star, becomes invincible, and saves the princess. Fun fact--the way he defeats Bowser (by spinning him and tossing him by his tail) was a method later adapted in the hit game Super Mario 64. Anyway... then... get this... the centipede dog transforms into a boy who looks younger than Peach. And then Peach reacts with a "Daddy?" Yeah, that's right. The centipede dog was a transformed king the whole time... but the king looks even younger than his daughter. Anyway, Mario and Luigi leave with no real reward or anything. Then there's an after-credits scene where the grocery store customer from the beginning goes inside and is served by Bowser and his Goombas. The end.
Honestly, whether you think my description there was weird or not... I don't think I even covered the tip of the iceberg on how bizarre this little movie gets. A lot of it has to do with the visuals. The animation itself is fine, but there is a lot of bizarre stuff going on in this movie. Half of it makes no sense whatsoever. I didn't even mention the fact that the entire movie is playing a mixture of J-Pop and music from the games. And there are game sound effects littered throughout. At certain points, anytime the brothers even walk one step, you get the "Mario jumping" sound. Just stuff like that. And on a nit-picky side, Luigi's outfit is blue in this, while it's usually green.
There's no wonder this movie was never released after its theater debut and a minor VHS release. The thing is a trippy trainwreck. You can tell they just wanted to incorporate every little thing from the game in this film but had no idea how to do it. We all know this is a near-impossible story to adapt as it is, but they didn't even try to have it make any sense. If you're a super-fan of the series, I'd say track it down for completionist's sake. Otherwise, only bother with it if you just want something bizarre.
Stay tuned next week where I take a look at the American's attempt to adapt the non-adaptable.)