I’ve mentioned before that I recently started listening to a podcast on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and as such I’ve been re-watching some of the episodes as well. I’ve written about the series in a general way, but wouldn’t mind getting into some deeper analysis. I just don’t know that anyone would read it. One recurring joke in the podcast is how many times there’s no explanation for how the characters get out of a predicament, or if there is one it doesn’t make any sense. Another is the theory that pasta is a religion for Mario and Luigi. You’d think two Italian-American stereotypes would be Catholic, wouldn’t you? Hail marinara, full of grace? The word “macaroni” does likely derive from the Greek for “blessed.” There’s also this interview with writer Perry Martin, which is from last year, but I only first saw a few months ago. He discusses how the focus on parodies and the obsession with Italian food largely resulted from the fact that they had to crank the shows out quickly, which is also probably why it often doesn’t have much to do with the video games it’s based on. I’m inclined to think the writers’ bible took a fair amount for the SMB instruction booklet, as the idea that King Koopa enchanted the Mushroom Kingdom is brought up several times, mostly in the Plumber’s Log opening narrations by Mario; and a few episodes have him turning Toads and others into bricks or stones.
The booklet, at least the American one, calls the villain Bowser, but the show never uses that name. It seems like it was fairly common back then for even American fans to call him “King Koopa,” while now “Bowser” is standard; but it’s not like I have statistics to back that up. And in Japan, he’s always just been Koopa. Martin also thinks the pattycake routine Mario and Luigi sometimes do to psych themselves up comes from the Road to… movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The reason Mario and company are constantly on the move is generally explained as their trying to find magical assistance in driving out Koopa and freeing the Mushroom People. The manual says the Princess herself is the only one who can break the enchantment, but maybe she forgot the counter-spell. The implication given is that Koopa has pretty much conquered the Mushroom Kingdom, but the Princess remains a threat to his rule, which is why he tries to capture her and force her to surrender. But then, some episodes have him seemingly trying to kill her, which wouldn’t help much if he wants to make his conquest legal.
While many of the episodes are parodies, as I’ve said, it’s often limited to the setting and some of the characters, the basic formula for most cartoons being that Mario, Luigi, the Princess, and Toad go to some themed country in search of help, and find out that Koopa is already there and has either taken over the land or is in the process of doing so, or possibly just wants to steal something. Sometimes they go to a new place specifically to stop him, but other times it just seems to be a coincidence that they show up in the same place. But then, the Mario games that existed at that point were pretty linear, so maybe both the heroes and villains are just proceeding to the next place along the line. The good guys thwart Koopa’s scheme, and he makes an escape, often but not always by throwing a bottle of potion to produce a magic door.
We never find out where the doors actually go, though; and he sometimes always manages to raise an invading force even though he rarely takes his troops with him.
Now let’s look at the opening theme, the Plumber Rap. The creators were obviously hip to what the kids in the late eighties were into. I was always confused by the line, “We’re not like the others who get all the fame.” The podcast actually did a whole bit on this, reading the Wikipedia list of famous plumbers to see how many were more famous than Mario and Luigi. They seem pretty famous even within the context of the show, as they have a lot of celebrity customers in the live-action segments, and in the cartoon they’re international heroes. The next animated bit shows Mario, Luigi, the Princess, and Toad sliding down flagpoles, which is something that happens in the games but not in the show. These are some really long flagpoles, too. Then Mario runs by King Koopa, who is holding on to a pole, and breaks the bricks above his head and leaves. Koopa looks shocked by this, even though it doesn’t impact him at all. Later, as Captain Lou Albano and Danny Wells dance on either side of a cartoon door, several characters run out of it, while the rap goes, “You’ll meet the Koopas, the Troopas, the Princess, and the others.” First of all, while “Koopas” can mean any of the turtle-based enemies, the show usually only uses it to refer to King Koopa, so “the Koopas” sounds kind of like a mistake they kept in, not unusual for this program. And “the others”? The only other one who comes through that door is Toad, who’s pretty significant in the animated segments. This is like when the Gilligan’s Island theme left out the Professor and Mary Ann. The part everyone seems to remember is “To the bridge!”, which I’m not sure is used correctly. But then, I’m not all that knowledgeable about musical terminology. I guess it is the part of the SMB theme that loops back around to the beginning, so maybe? Then, while Lou and Danny run past Trouters and Piranha Plants, the cartoon team rides on a flying carpet, Mario gets a star, and then they fly into a vase and out of a castle window. The vases from SMB2 are another game element that I don’t recall seeing on the show.
There’s a second rap introducing the cartoon, which is also set to the main SMB theme and includes some of the same lyrics. It explains that they “found the secret warp zone while working on the drain,” which is demonstrated by showing them being sucked down a bathtub drain. Luigi goes first, then apparently grabs on to Mario to try to get out, but ends up dragging him down too. The pipe continues far into the ground, with a pretty abstract design. So does everything from that tub end up in the Mushroom Kingdom? I don’t know. Maybe the warp is time-sensitive. As sloppy and nonsensical as the Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 episode “Toddler Terrors of Time Travel” was, it does seem to confirm that it was necessary for them to go down the drain at a specific time. We cut to Koopa and a bunch of his Troopas up to misbehaving, specifically in forcing the Princess and Toad toward the edge of a cliff. The Marios roll out of the pipe, and Luigi knocks out the Troopas without even intending to, after which Koopa jumps off the cliff. Hmm, kind of similar to Dorothy’s house landing on the Wicked Witch of the East. Let’s hear it for inadvertent heroism! So is this canonical to the show? Did they first meet Toad and the Princess on the edge of this cliff (and yes, I know that the games later established they knew each other as kids, but this was before all that)? What about the Marios having to fight their way through eight castles? Maybe Koopa showed up again shortly after this. And apparently the official name for the cartoon is The Super Mario Bros.
At the end, Captain Lou does the Mario, which mostly consists of his swinging his arms back and forth while transporting all over the background. For some reason, it’s a desert scene that also appeared in the opening, and Beth said it looked more like Roadrunner than Mario. Where are all the floating blocks? The only directions given in the lyrics are to “swing your arms from side to side” and “take one step, and then again,” which doesn’t sound like much of a dance. Apparently there were a few other working lyrics that didn’t make it to the finished version, about zapping and jumping. Maybe zapping refers to the teleportation, unless it relates to the Nintendo Zapper. The Captain does jump once towards the end, then stands with his legs spread and trips a little bit. I guess the show couldn’t afford to do a second take. I remember reading somewhere that the words were supposed to reference how Mario moves in the game, and I guess he does swing his arms, but it’s hardly the most noteworthy thing he does.
Until next time, everybody…well, you know what to do.