Shout! Factory // 1989 // 570 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // February 15th, 2006
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Hey paisanos! Let's do the Mario! Debuting in 1989, The Super Mario Bros Super Show! was a syndicated weekday cartoon that offered mushroom-clad proof that Nintendo had at last transcended the 8-bit world of video games and made an indelible mark on North American popular culture. Starring everyone's favorite pixilated plumbers, Mario and Luigi, from Nintendo's flagship Super Mario Brothers game, the fondly remembered show provided a mix of live action and animation with the brothers from Monday to Thursday each week, with The Legend of Zelda, a cartoon based on Nintendo's other popular franchise, airing on Friday.
Hot on the heels of their previously released The Legend of Zelda collection, Shout! Factory has let the first volume of The Super Mario Bros Super Show! out of the oversized green pipe, an amusing time capsule that is guaranteed to make seasoned gamers drop their controllers and pick up a DVD remote-at least until that blissful sense of nostalgia wears off like a fading starman power-up.
Each episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! begins and ends with a live action segment hosted by Brooklyn plumber Mario (Former WWF superstar Captain Lou Albano, 13th Grade) and his brother Luigi (Danny Wells, Magnolia), who welcome guest stars and help solve their problems with a healthy dose of slapstick humor. In between, the show features an animated adventure in which Mario and Luigi are warped into the Mushroom Kingdom. There, with the help of their friends Princess Peach and Toad, they do battle with the tyrannical King Koopa in a variety of strange worlds, all while trying to figure out a way to get back home.
Shout! Factory has presented the first 24 of the original 52 episodes of the show on four, single-sided discs here, with (presumably) a second volume on the way. They are:
* The Bird! The Bird!
* Butch Mario and the Luigi Kid
* King Mario of Cramalot
* Mario's Magic Carpet
* Roll'in down the river
* The Great Gladiator Gig
* Mario and the Beanstalk
* Love'em and Leave'em
* The Great BMX Race
* Two Plumbers and a Baby
* Stars in their Eyes
* Pirates of the Koopa
* Robo Koopa
* Count Koopula
* Jungle Fever
* Mario of The Deep
* The Fire of Herculfleas
* Mario Meets Koop-Zilla
* Mario And Joliet
* Too Hot To Handle
* Brooklyn Bound
* The Adventures of Sherlock Mario
* Hooded Robin
* Toad Warrior
In 1989, Nintendo seemed determined to capitalize on the wild popularity of their Mario and Luigi characters, a pair of unlikely blue-collar heroes that had leapt their way into millions of homes since the Nintendo Entertainment System first arrived four years earlier. Not only did that peak year see the brothers shrunk down to help launch the Gameboy, a handheld system that revolutionized the portable gaming market, but they also broke into film with the blatant Nintendo "advertainment" movie, The Wizard, in which Fred Savage offered gamers a sneak peek at the hotly anticipated Super Mario Brothers 3, a game that would eventually move over 40 million copies worldwide and be crowned the best selling game of all time. Nintendo's last front of attack was on television, with The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and its Saturday morning NBC counterpart, Captain N: The Game Master, two shows of middling quality that capped off a mass media onslaught and ensured Mario and Luigi were at the top of every kid's Christmas list that year.
That's not to say that The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, produced by kid's animation powerhouse DiC, is anything but a 22-minute commercial for Nintendo's hottest franchise, but it's so brainlessly innocuous that it's hard to care. By the time that Albano and Wells first appear on screen dressed as the sibling plumbers, dancing embarrassingly to a silly rap theme song, it's clear that this low budget show is one of those twisted pop culture monstrosities so firmly of its era that it can only be taken seriously today as a nostalgic peek back at the Nintendo-crazed late '80s. From this point of view, the live scenes in Mario and Luigi's basement apartment have now become the most interesting aspect of the show, campy segments featuring totally rad video game sound effects, 8-bit incidental music, and a former wrestler encouraging you to do a dance called "The Mario." Sporting colored overalls and phony mustaches, the two actors ham it up unmercifully for the kids at home, doing Elvis impersonations, running away from a vampire, dressing in drag, and getting smashed on the head with pipes. It's totally ridiculous, but strangely compelling, and though the broad jokes may not be able to worm their way to your inner gamepad-clutching 10-year-old, it's all in good fun, and the actors seem to be having a great time bringing their 2-D characters to life.
And then there's the live segment's guest stars -- oh, the guest stars! Besides a few notable names like Cyndi Lauper , Nicole Eggert, and Magic Johnson (via blue screen!), The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! featured a veritable parade of C-list flavor-of-the-months like The Wonder Years' Danica McKellar, walking, talking action figure Sgt. Slaughter, and even Fight Back! consumer crusader David Horowitz. It's definitely a blast from the kitschy past seeing these personalities back on TV, and if the prospect of watching Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo star Shaba-Doo teach Captain Lou Albano how to breakdance excites you, then I must inform you that you're not alone. No, with juvenile humor and near-forgotten celebrities, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! hasn't aged very well at all, but that's probably the best reason for modern viewers to pick up the set.
Albano and Wells also voice the Mario Brothers in the less interesting animated segments that were originally the main draw of the program, crudely drawn affairs that indiscriminately borrow characters and lore from both the Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers 2 NES games. As with most cartoons based on simplistic properties, the writers were forced to expand on the existing storyline, pushing Mario and Luigi far beyond the Mushroom Kingdom of the game in order to squeeze them into tried and true cartoon situations. As a result, kids were probably a little disappointed with such unlikely scenarios as Koopa in a steamboat race with Mark Twain or the Brothers entering a BMX bike rally to bail Toad out of an overdue loan. Even innovations like a magical golden plunger or a super-sharp utility pizza cutter are borderline blasphemy for those who just wanted to see the game's question mark box-filled world brought to life. Despite the divergence from the familiar, however, some of the stories are passable Saturday morning kiddie fare, as the brothers engage in predictable adventures like meeting helpful wizards, playing competitive sports against a team of baddies, and helping a planet of aliens fight back against Koopa's evil universe-conquering plans.
Admittedly, the quality of the cartoon is not up to the level of Link's Friday adventures on The Legend of Zelda, which were far better drawn and animated, but they aren't terrible, especially considering the fact that more than 65 Super Mario shorts were done in one year. The only other notable problem is that Albano isn't much of a voice actor, and it's obvious that this is his first time working on a cartoon -- he just doesn't go as over-the-top as required, and his grizzled tones are an ill fit with Mario.
Young viewers probably didn't notice this at the time, but there's also a good deal of padding in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! that stretches those production dollars to the breaking point. Each show clocks in under 22 minutes, and even then they feature two separate theme songs for each part of the show, a mandatory preview of Friday's episode of The Legend of Zelda, and even gratuitous "we'll be back" bumpers. Cut out the fat, and there's only really about one 13 minute original cartoon and about 5 minutes of live action per episode. Still, on DVD, this is no longer a problem, as much of the repetitive content can be quickly skipped, usually with Shout! Factory's well-placed chapter stops.
Episodes of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, have been collected on single disc compilations in the past, but this is the first time they've been presented completely uncut in a comprehensive set. For starters, the videotaped live action segments look great, with fine detail and solid colors, and while the cartoons do contain a considerable amount of grain and dirt, these blemishes are quite common for animated shows of this vintage on DVD. Likewise, the sound quality is quite good, a 2.0 mono track that delivers every blip, bloop, and bleep with solid clarity. There's just a small handful of extras on this set, by far the most interesting being a five minute interview with Captain Lou Albano, in which he talks about his wrestling career in the WWF and how it led to the role of Nintendo's best-known mascot. This is followed by an inessential storyboard comparison that covers the show's opening sequence, and a "tour" of some of the cell backgrounds used in the show. Not much, maybe, but I can't think what else they could have included that would have enhanced my enjoyment of the show.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! is that it was actually competing for attention with the very video games it so shamelessly plugged. Why any kid would prefer to watch an animated Mario mash turtle shells and uproot turnips when they could be controlling the action themselves is almost beyond me -- and yet, pretty much everyone I know put away their game consoles for at least half-an-hour each day to follow Mario and Luigi's barely-related animated adventures. I'll be the first to admit that nostalgia only goes so far, but die-hard Nintendo addicts are sure to find this fun DVD set at least a brief trip back into the glory days of the NES, as well as popular culture at the end of the 1980s in general.
And hey, at least it doesn't suck as bad as The Super Mario Bros. Movie, right?
Game Over. Try again?
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 570 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Lou Albano
* Storyboard Comparison
* Super Mario Brothers Worlds