Defending Super Mario Bros. The Movie

by Kevin on


In the past, I have written two articles where I’ve tried to point out that there were positive aspects to certain notable Nintendo failures. I spent a bit of time trying to think of other things I could defend. The Game Boy Micro? I actually really like my Micro, so that would be too easy for me. The original DS Browser? Nope, that is absolutely not defend-able. Like anti-rape legislation, you’d have to be a huge idiot to go against the grain on that monstrosity. (I write more after the break, so that is where you should go if you want to read more)

What I’d like to talk about today is a movie. A movie that came out in May of 1993, alongside Sylvester Stallone’s classic Cliffhanger, and the take-that-Saddam-attitude film Hot Shots! Part Deux. This movie is Super Mario Bros. The Movie, which is something that I can bring up with fellow video game nerds if I want to see them grimace and wince. Nobody likes this movie. In fact, there’s a cottage industry where nerds yell about this movie and tape it. There is a good reason for this, as the movie is straight-up awful. If you are the one person reading this who is saying “no, actually, I beg to differ – I love this film!” then you are lying to yourself. Go and watch it again. Please. I’ll wait.

Yeah, see?

Here’s the thing. Whether or not the movie is good as a “film”, I am going to argue that the film is a rousing success (No, not at being a shitstorm, so shut the hell up, sassyfrass). It was a success because it wasn’t the failure that it should have been. So. Deep breath.

SMB:TM (as I will call it from now on), is about two Brooklyn plumbers, Mario Mario (as played by the always delightful Bob Hoskins), and Luigi Mario (as played by the Prince of Cats, John Leguizamo). Luigi, the younger and less rotund of the brothers, falls in love with a paleontologist named Daisy, who is kidnapped and taken to a parallel dimension where dinosaurs were given a chance to evolve for millions of years instead of hominids. This dystopian world is mostly desert, with a giant city run by the powerful King Bowser Koopa (Dennis Hopper, who chews scenery like he was a teething baby), and Koopa is looking for a piece of a meteorite which will bridge the gap between his universe and the normal universe so that he can rule a better Earth.

Mario and Luigi go in after Daisy (who turns out to be part dinosaur, who would have thought) in an attempt to stop this from happening.

Yes, I know that you already know this, but I have to repeat this in a matter-of-fact way, because I want you to realize how completely batshit insane this premise is, yet how closely it mirrors the even more completely batshit insane premise of the actual Super Mario Bros. video games. Imagine that you are a screenwriter, and some Hollywood producer drops the Mario franchise into your lap and tells you to write a movie based on the story. Your imagination has just failed you, and you will agree that this is a scenario that should have ended with “the screenwriter was found dead with a Super Scope shoved deep into his mouth.” The Super Mario Bros games have very little plot. Two brothers rescue a princess in a magical mushroom world, fighting their way through various castles filled with fire. At some point they ride a dinosaur, or wear a cape, or turn into an adorable little raccoon. See? Do you see? This movie shouldn’t exist, yet it does. And it follows what little storyline actually exists for the series.

I know that movies have been made on slimmer premises, but what I want to argue is that SMB:TM actually succeeds at wrapping an interesting story around an absolutely nonsensical core. When you first meet the Mario Brothers, they are working as plumbers, and it makes sense. This is what they do. When you think about Mario the videogame character, you only think of him as a plumber as an afterthought. The man is a turtle murdering *machine*. Mario the movie character is a plumber, thanks to a very believable job by Bob Hoskins. The way in which he interacts with Luigi even goes and adds an extra dimension to the character. Since they are, of course, orphans, Mario has filled the role of father for the younger Luigi. Yes, it’s corny, but considering that all the screenwriter had to work with was that the characters started out as a [palette swap]( and eventually it was established that [Luigi jumps in a stupid way](, this little relationship development is necessary to make the movie work. There are many other changes, but I think that they’re mostly for the better. The idea of the “Mushroom Kingdom” comes from the fact that Koopa has de-evolved the former King from his previous dinosaur-like self to a sprawling fungus. The citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom, instead of looking like tiny, gay, bubble-headed children, look like people, albeit people with [stupid haircuts]( Goombas have been changed from small brown mushroom caps to be giant, hulking, tiny-headed lizard men. This is a real bone of contention for a lot of people, but I dare you to counter that having Goombas be creepy brown scuttling creatures would have worked better. Here, the goombas make sense within the storyline. Hell, even Yoshi makes an appearance as a small dinosaur pet for King Koopa. He plays a small role in the film too, helping our heroes out with his huge tongue (LIKE IN THE GAME).

Aside: Yes, I think it would have been cool to have Bob Hoskins riding a dinosaur, and so I will admit that the film fails in this regard.

So, as you can see, the film is actually taking something that should not, in any universe (human-filled or dinosaur-filled) work, and writing it so that it makes at least a modicum of sense. My parents saw this movie with me, and they understood it. Considering that this is the world’s first film based on a video game, I consider it a success.

There are other reasons why I happen to really enjoy the film. Hearing Bob Hoskins say “Scapelli” [over the course of the film is hilarious]( At one time, he does it in a situation where he might not be wearing pants. King Koopa, while not a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, has a humorous germaphobia, except when dealing with mud, for some reason. There are many small references to the original games throughout, including Thwomps, the Koopahari Desert, and Iggy Koopa (Spike, Iggy’s cousin, isn’t really much of a reference – I would have preferred if the character was named Lemmy, I guess). The citizens of Dinohattan all flip a shit when they discover a tiny Bob-omb. Our man Dennis Hopper acknowledges this fear with [only a look and a word]( I want you to realize how insane it is to have Dennis Hopper saying the word “bob-omb”. When Mario and Luigi don their trademark outfits, it’s appropriately badass. The city of Dinohattan is delightful, too and I am a huge fan of the idea of every car running in the way that bumper cars run, with an electric fence supplying them with power. Luigi getting the Goombas to dance in the elevator is so idiotic yet at the same time fantastic, especially in light of the fact that the Goombas actually do a little hop to the music in The New Super Mario Bros., so the idea of dancing Goombas is not so farfetched, huh? Listen! The film has great moments. “Hey, the name’s Mario. I’m your main man, your ram-a-dame, your can of spam.” Bob Hoskins *says this with a straight face*. It’s brilliant. Considering that he was very likely [drunk through most of the filming](, that is a triumph.
And there are bad parts. Anytime Koopa’s cousins are performing comic hijinx, the film stalls. They have the *worst haircuts*, by the way. They are also the subject of the film’s final joke, about turning their story into a video game. This is a sad reason to sit through the credits. Also, the film totally made [haunting predictions about national tragedies]( So, that’s weird.

But overall, I don’t consider this film to be the absolute failure most people do. A friend and I have a yearly tradition where we sit and watch the film, and we do it not out of irony, but rather because it’s a fun evening, and a year is just enough time so we’ll forget most of it. There are worse films based on video games. But none of them feature Bob Hoskins trying to bite a meteorite out of an overweight woman’s breasts.