Mamma mia! It’s a Super Mario Bros. cartoon! Several of them, in fact.
The Mark of Zero – Our first parody for the week is of Zorro. I can’t say I know that much about the character, but I did watch the movie with Antonio Banderas. So we’re obviously in for a quasi-Mexican setting, called El Desert Land. A Mexican-themed land appears again with the Sand Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey. The Mario team is riding in a sombrero-shaped cart drawn by Ostros, with the typical bathtub behind it. They come across a taco stand run by a woman with a valley girl accent. Mario orders a bunch of tacos, and it’s interesting that they just went with Mario liking Mexican food, instead of having to mix it with pasta or pizza like this show often does. Before the waitress can serve them, though, there’s an attack by King Koopa, in character as the conquistador El Koopitan. Is this a subtle anti-colonial theme? I’m not sure they thought that much about it.
Zero shows up and fights off El Koopitan’s army without breaking a sweat, while “La Bamba” plays. Oddly, the song was cut from the DVD release even though I’m pretty sure it’s public domain. El Koopitan manages to pin Zero with a cactus, and the bad guys take him away. Then there’s another fight in a nearby village, where the inhabitants are too scared to stand up to El Koopitan, but the Marios does their best by throwing vegetables and then tortillas at them. After that, there’s a THIRD battle, because apparently the writers couldn’t think of any other way to get the episode up to the required length. For that matter, why is Koopa so intent on conquering this one village? It starts with El Koopitan telling a Koopa Troopa to “give Mouser the signal,” so he pulls a traffic light out of the ground and throws it. Mouser catches it and says, “That’s the signal!”, in case the joke wasn’t painfully obvious enough. What’s noteworthy here is that the traffic light has roots. In the ensuing battle, Mario dresses up as Zero and Luigi as Zero Plus One, both wielding plumber’s snakes like whips. Mouser recommends a retreat to the secret hideout one mile north of the taco stand, which Mario overhears. I’m sure the Koopa gang all knew where the hideout was; Mouser is just being an idiot. When Mario and Luigi get to El Koopitan’s fortress, they use their capes to hang glide down from the wall surrounding it, which doesn’t make a lot of sense unless these are the capes that would later appear as power-ups in Super Mario World. They’re caught in a spotlight and immediately do a flamenco dance, but nobody seems to care.
The Marios fight off El Koopitan’s forces and rescue Zero. Then they return to the taco stand and see the waitress wearing Zero’s mask, which isn’t such a bad reveal.
Toupee – It’s time for the Mario Brothers’ inspection by the sadistic Dr. Klean from the Board of Sanitation. Played by Gary Schwartz, who was also Dr. Toby in “Super Plant” (it’s not like he even uses a different voice or anything), he’s a guy who enjoys evicting old ladies. Why do television writers seem to have it in for government inspectors? While he’s checking out the basement, the Ratigator steals his toupee, and Mario and Luigi try to get it back. This episode also introduces a living hairball just called Clog, who would appear in later segments as well. When he lands on the Inspector’s head, his hair miraculously grows back, and Klean lets the Marios pass the inspection. Of course, it’s just as corrupt to use personal feelings to pass someone as to fail them, and the basement really is pretty filthy, but we’re supposed to root for the brothers. The theme song doesn’t say, “You’ll be hooked on government-mandated sanitary standards,” does it? Another character introduced here is the CooKoo Bird, who announces an incoming train.
I believe the Marios’ apartment is supposed to be adjacent to a defunct subway station, which I guess is why they have signs indicating exits on their wall. One of them mentions Water and Dock Streets, which would put it in DUMBO rather than Flatbush, where these segments are usually said to take place.
The Ten Koopmandments – Writer Perry Martin has discussed how his original idea for this one was to have Koopa as King Tut building a sphinx out of Toads turned into bricks, again drawing on the source material in the original SMB manual. The script was rejected, so Martin made a few changes to turn it into a parody of The Ten Commandments, and it was accepted despite still using the same basic story.
The Plumber’s Log number is 1000 BC, which is after most estimates for the Exodus (if it even happened at all) and the reign of Tutankhamun, who died around 1325 BC. Mario and company arrive in Pyramid Land, where Koopa has declared himself Pharaoh and is forcing the Toads to live by the repressive Ten Koopmandments, which include giving Koop Tut all their money, not eating pasta, and not hiring plumbers. So what happens if someone has a clogged drain? They’re written in hieroglyphics, but nobody has any trouble reading them. I know the Commandments were given by Moses, not the Pharaoh; but I think they’re really only there to make the title work. This is especially true because we find out Koop Tut has already transformed all of the Toads but three, the Three Mushrooms, parodies of the Three Stooges. I guess they WERE Jewish, like the slaves in the Exodus story.
When Koopa and his Pack arrive, they start flinging pies at the bad guys, but somehow they manage to hit the Marios and their friends instead. Koop Tut uses his magic staff to enchant the Stooge wannabes into bricks. Mouser and Triclyde are both in this episode, but while the former has lines, I don’t think the latter ever talks or does anything of significance. He’s also the only one not to wear a snake headdress, possibly because he’s already a snake.
I’m not even sure why he’s included, but I do notice that the Koopa Pack trio shows up in most of Martin’s episodes. Also along the Egyptian theme, there are some cute Anubis statues in this one.
The Pharaoh locks our heroes inside a pyramid (the only one shown in the episode, as far as I can remember, despite the setting being called Pyramid Land), and I’m not sure why he didn’t turn Mario and company into bricks as well. When they’re locked inside, they start running from a Goomba. Yes, again. In fact, this whole segment is basically the Tunnel of Doom from “On Her Majesty’s Sewer Service” again, although here the Goomba is a mummy (maybe they’re stronger than regular Goombas?), they jump over a Cobrat in a jar instead of running over Piranha Plants, and the enemy coming at them from the other direction is a Phanto. I think this is the first time one of them has appeared on the show, and I give them points just for including it, even though I don’t think anyone had a key. Mario pushes an emergency escape button (must be standard on pyramids, right?) so the heroes can get out. When they get to Koop Tut’s tent, he’s taking a nap, and for some reason doesn’t have any guards. So Mario sneaks inside, grabs the magic staff, and uses it to turn the Toads back. We get a brief scene of the Mushroom People as themselves, still stacked on top of each other, but obviously not all of them. Martin was clear about how the Toads being transformed was partially to save on the animation budget. Mario leads the Toads to the Red Sauce Sea, then uses the staff to part it, saying a rhyme to do so. So yes, in this context, Mario is essentially playing Moses. The sea really looks more like it’s made of Kool-Aid, but I guess that’s easier to draw. As expected, Koop Tut and the Koopa Pack pursue in their chariot, and the sea rushes back together to wash them away. And Mario throws the staff into the sea as well, because Coin Heaven forbid anyone actually hold on to a useful item in this series. I have to wonder what’s on the other side of the Red Sauce Sea. If Moses led the Hebrews to Israel, where is Mario leading his people? And does it take them forty years? Presumably not. I had thought of the idea that Pasta Land could be on the other side, since that fits with the theme of a sea of marinara. There had already been some Egyptian themes in Super Mario Bros. 2, and deserts with pyramids and sphinxes would be commonplace in later games.
There’s even a sphinx shaped like Bowser in Mario Party 7.
The Artist – As far as I know, this one has nothing to do with the 2011 mostly-silent film (although, admittedly, I never saw it) or with Prince. It opens with Luigi saying that a famous artist is coming over to give him lessons because he drew the best Tippy Turtle, a reference to an art school that sent out mass mailings where you were supposed to draw a turtle or other cartoon and mail it back in.
Really, it didn’t matter how good the drawings were, just whether you had the tuition money. Sort of a scam, although I think there WERE actual classes, so it’s a little more reputable than Trump University. I believe Charles Schulz went there. Anyway, the guy who shows up at the apartment claims to be Vincent Van Gogh, and Mario and Luigi seem to have no problem with this, despite the fact that he died about a century earlier. When Mario drops some pasta on the floor, Vincent starts to turn his attention to him instead, insisting he’s a true artist. He tries to get Mario to pay for lessons, but Luigi happens to see in the paper that the guy is actually a conman. Next time impersonate an artist who’s still alive, dude.
The Koopas Are Coming! The Koopas Are Coming! – This one is another parody, not of a book or movie, but of the American Revolution. Honestly, I have a hard time suspending my disbelief for this one, and it doesn’t help that the plot really doesn’t make much sense anyway. I’m not sure if the fact that it’s based more on the mythology surrounding the Revolutionary War than the actual historical event helps or hurts it. The brothers and their friends are meeting with General George Washingtoad at Valley Forge, and Mario and Luigi tell him how he’s strangely similar to the first president of the country they come from, and that they once had a dream where he showed up at their apartment and berated them for lying. No, that’s exactly what doesn’t happen, and it really should have since it’s part of the characters’ background that they’re from the United States. I mean, most of these cartoons are parodies, and it would be pretty annoying if every single one of them had Mario and/or Luigi saying, “Hey, this reminds me a lot of a movie/book/fairy tale/historical event from our world!” But I think maybe this would be one that would have benefited from some lampshade hanging. It’s also strange because you’d think that, since the actual war had British colonists fighting for independence from Britain, the mushroom colonists would want independence from the Mushroom Kingdom. But no, the Princess is totally on board with Washingtoad’s fight. Instead, they’re fighting the Koopas, led by Redcoat Koopa, leader of the Koopish Army. He shows up at Washingtoad’s tent almost immediately, shows them how he froze the mushroom army, and freezes everyone in the tent with an ice scepter that a Flurry was carrying for him. There’s a lot of ice and snow in this episode, and I know the excuse for it is that Washington’s stay at Valley Forge and crossing the Delaware happened in the winter; but a lot of the gags could just have easily have worked back in the Land of Ice or the Snow World. Somehow, even though Mario is frozen in a block of ice and unable to move, he can still jump on top of the stove. That doesn’t even begin to make any sense. But he defrosts the others, except for Washingtoad, who slides away still in his ice block. Mario uses the plunger on a rope trick again, only this time he gets dragged along with the General, so at least there’s a bit of a twist. Mario uses a Fire Flower to defrost some of the soldiers, and the Princess handles a fireball with her bare hands. Luigi rides off on a horse in a spoof on Paul Revere, telling everyone the Koopas are coming. And by “everyone,” I mean, like, two people sitting on a nearby porch. The music in this scene mixes the SMB2 overworld theme with the William Tell Overture, which is interesting. Why that piece of music? All I can figure is that it was the Lone Ranger’s theme, and he rode a horse too. This horse doesn’t talk like the one in “The Gladiator Gig,” but it is quite intelligent, taking charge of the mission when the plumber is reluctant. But he’s unable to save Luigi from a group of Beezos who capture him. The others decide to launch a sneak attack on the Koopas and rescue Luigi, planning it out in a bit of animation where Mario, Washingtoad, and the Princess appear in circles above a map. This requires crossing the Delawide River, where they soon get stuck in the ice. But Toad throws a gold coin, saying that whoever gets it first can keep it. This gets everyone, including the horse, to row quite effectively. For one coin? The reference is to a young Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac, which didn’t really happen, although it’s said he might have thrown stones across the Rappahannock. The coin eventually hits Koopa, although how it manages to stay in the air so long isn’t clear. The Koopa Troopas are wearing red coats over their shells, and if I didn’t already know they were turtles, I might have thought they were frogs.
Mario gets another Fire Flower for the battle, and our heroes take the Ice Scepter, which Mario then fires at a blank screen. I think they forgot to animate that part. But he freezes Koopa, which apparently wins the war for Washingtoad. While a lot of episodes seem to end with someone telling a bad joke and everybody laughing, this one has Washingtoad telling a bad joke and NOBODY laughing, except one Toad whom everyone else scowls at. Then there’s a very quick bit where Mario, Luigi, and Toad reenact the Spirit of ’76 for a few seconds before the fade-out.
If the cartoon ran long, I can think of a lot of stuff they could have cut instead of the very end, as you’d think there would be a punchline or something to that bit.
Zenned Out Mario – Mario comes home panicking, because a bully plumber named Tulio is planning on beating him up after he (Mario) made a pass at his (Tulio’s) sister. But Luigi tells him that they’re getting a visit from the great sage Obi-Wan Cannoli, identified as “the famous spirit who helps people who are about to get pounded.” He shows up as a face in a mirror, and is played by Philippino actor Arsenio “Sonny” Trinidad as an Asian mystic. Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t Asian, of course, but Star Wars was heavily influenced by samurai films. Still, it seems like they’re trying to parody two things in one briefly-seen character. He starts teaching Mario about the path to enlightenment, which for some reason includes his running headfirst into a brick wall; but when Tulio actually shows up, he does a Jedi mind trick to convince him to go away. So what were those lessons even for?
The Trojan Koopa – The major plot element here is obvious from the title, but aside from that, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the Trojan War. It does, however, take place on an island with the somewhat Greek-sounding name of Koopos. Koopa has kidnapped the Princess again, and this time is keeping her prisoner in an island fortress. Mario, Luigi, and Toad are sailing in a bathtub over a rough purple sea (hmm, coloring error or reference to Homer’s “wine-dark sea”?) while “Ride of the Valkyries” plays, and Mario appears to be moving his mouth along with his Plumber’s Log narration. Come to think of it, we never do find out whether this log is kept in a book or on a recording device, or if it’s all in Mario’s head. When they get to Koopos, they try a few different ways to infiltrate the fortress. Unfortunately for them, Koopa’s main henchmen this time are the Hammer Brothers, who are slightly more competent than most of their fellows. Mario tries to use plungers to scale the wall, but the Hammer Bros knock a block out from behind him. Luigi attempts to pole vault, but they break the pole. Then Mario slingshots Toad, who’s wearing his Toad Warrior helmet again (although the first time it was the result of a star-powered transformation) into the air with Luigi’s overalls, but Koopa knocks him off the wall. The turtles come down for another attack, but Mario and Luigi distract them with their pattycake routine, and they knock each other out. Didn’t that same basic thing happen in their last appearance?
Anyway, Mario and Luigi dress up the Hammer Bros in their clothes, make a dummy of Toad, and send them out to sea in their bathtub boat, while they build the wooden figure from the title. Since the island is very small and Koopa and the Hammer Bros have seen the would-be rescuers’ other moves, I don’t know how they miss the construction, but whatever. Toad tells the Marios that they’re pretty good carpenters for plumbers, and of course Mario was originally conceived as a carpenter back in Donkey Kong. Some Shy Guys bring the wooden Koopa into the fortress, and Koopa makes them move it all around. Finally, at night, the heroes emerge. But the Hammer Bros aren’t through yet, as one of them somehow manages to turn the boat around by rowing with his head, and they return to the fortress and wake up Koopa and the Shy Guys. The minions chase Mario, Luigi, and Toad in circles around the stairs to the tower, while Koopa just stands there and watches. This really doesn’t make sense for either the good or bad guys. The Marios temporarily defeated the Hammer Bros once in this episode, and a few Shy Guys aren’t much of a threat, so why not fight them? Alternatively, they could try to dodge Koopa and climb the stairs to where the Princess is being kept. At the same time, the Hammer Bros don’t use their hammers, Koopa never tries to grab his enemies as they run by, and nobody tries to force the rescuers to retreat. The way it’s wrapped up is pretty cool, though. A star falls toward the tower, and the Princess grabs it and becomes super for the only time in this series. She calls herself “Princess P,” although I couldn’t say why. She was already Princess Peach in Japan at this point, and someone might have been aware of that, but it’s not at all relevant to the situation.
The Princess knocks out the bad guys and saves her friends, but Koopa steals the bathtub boat. The Mario team is able to use the wooden Koopa as a boat, however, while the bathtub leaks.
What I have to wonder is how Koopa got there in the first place, and how he was originally planning to leave. Was someone eventually coming to pick him up, and he just didn’t want to wait? For that matter, I’m not sure how the good guys planned to leave after using their boat as a decoy, although I guess they could have built a raft even if they didn’t have the Trojan Koopa.
Texas Tea – Since they only have one set for these live-action bits, it limits the potential plots. In this case, the plot really doesn’t make any sense taking place in a basement apartment in Brooklyn, but they go ahead and do it anyway. Luigi is trying to pick tomatoes in the tub garden when he strikes oil. As if that weren’t weird enough, an oil executive named Ted Bull shows up, claiming he can smell a gusher a mile away. He’s played by Norman Fell, who is best known for playing Mr. Roper on Three’s Company, but he’d also been on the Super Show before. In a segment accompanying a Zelda cartoon, he plays Fred Van Winkle, a guy who had been asleep in the basement for sixty years. You’d really think the Marios would have explored the place more thoroughly when they moved in. Anyway, Bull tells the brothers they’ll be rich, and they start buying all kinds of stuff, only to have the oil dry up abruptly and everything repossessed. Edison, the Mario Brothers’ electrician roommate with his head covered by a mop, shows up to say he fixed the leaky oil pipe, presumably explaining why the gusher stopped suddenly. If it was from a pipe, though, was it ever even theirs to sell? It might have worked better if they HADN’T stuck in this last-minute explanation. On the other hand, it’s cool to see Edison, as the bizarre secondary supporting characters never get enough screen time.
I was considering adding another comic review as well, but this is already pretty long, so maybe I’ll do some of those separately later on.