The closest Judge Erich Asperschlager ever came to having "raccoon power" was a case of rabies.
Be sure to take your frog suit!
Everyone thought King Koopa had left the Mushroom Kingdom. And then, his Doom Ship attacked! King Koopa was back, with the greatest danger ever known: his Koopa Kids!
Facts of the Case
In 1990, Nintendo's fame was not yet about clubbing family members with motion-sensing remotes. Thanks to its wildly successful NES console, the Japanese company all but owned the video game market. While legions of screaming kids made sure the popular characters were household names, none were better known than legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto's jumping plumber pair: the Super Mario Bros.
Following the winter release of the smash hit third game in the Super Mario series, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 debuted in the fall of 1990, airing alongside Captain N: The Game Master, as the second half of Nintendo's hour-long NBC Saturday morning cartoon block. It expanded the Bros.' animated universe by incorporating characters and settings from the new game—most notably King Koopa's seven nasty kids. More than 17 years after Super Mario Bros. 3's release, it regularly lands on video game critics' "top ten" lists. Does the animated series fare as well?
There are 13 episodes, each divided into two shorter storylines:
• "Reign Storm"/"Toddler Terrors of Time
• "Mind Your Mummy Mommy, Mario"/The Beauty of
• "A Toadally Magical Adventure"/"Misadventures In
• "Oh, Brother!"/"Misadventure Of Mighty
• "Princess Toadstool For President"/"Never Koop A
• "Dadzilla"/"Tag Team Trouble"
• "Crimes R Us"/"Life's Ruff"
• "Up, Up And A Koopa"/"7 Continents For 7
• "Mush-Rumors"/"The Ugly Mermaid"
• "True Colors"/"Recycled Koopa"
• "The Venice Menace"/"Super Koopa"
Let's face it: not only are video games more fun to play than to watch, the stories don't usually make much sense. I figure that's why most video game adaptations bear only a loose resemblance to their source material. The result? Some rather infamous "creative" decisions, like the re-imagining of Simon Belmont as a vain pretty boy in Captain N, and Dennis Hopper's ridiculous dino-turn as King Koopa in the Super Mario Bros movie.
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, on the other hand, is a bizarre experiment in what happens if you make the rules of a video game—in this case, Super Mario Bros. 3—the basis for storytelling. At times it feels like an animated instruction manual: Mario and Luigi need to break blocks to find power leaves that turn them into flying raccoons, and if they get touched by an enemy they lose their "super" powers. Too much for you? Hey, the game's about high-jumping plumbers who need mushrooms to grow large enough to stomp winged turtles. The writers manage to shoehorn most of the game's power-ups into the series, though they favor the most useful: flying "raccoon power" leaves, flame-throwing fire flowers, and swim-enhancing frog suits. Nothing underscores the Super Mario games' weirdness like seeing these powers in action—wait 'til you see them use the Karoobi Boot; it's a giant boot!
The characters are no less colorful. The Koopa Kids' introduction in Super Mario Bros. 3 saves King Koopa from being the show's only heavy. Most episodes center around Koopa and one or more of his kids hatching a plan befitting their particular talents: Kooky the inventor; Bully the muscle; Cheatsy the conniver; Kootie Pie the token spoiled girl; twins Hip and Hop; and Big Mouth the…well…can you guess? For some odd reason, though, the koopalings' names differ from their video game counterparts—I guess they thought "Kootie Pie" was more evocative than "Wendy." On the other side, the heroes are less interesting: Mario and Luigi are so Italian they practically ooze pasta sauce; poor Toad is the typical "little guy"; and Princess Toadstool rocks early-'90s Girl Power. The supporting cast includes just about every enemy from the game, from Paragoombas, Bloopers, and Hammer Bros. (here called "Sledge Bros."), to fire-breathing ! Piranha Plants, Chain Chomps, and Dry Bones. As with the power-ups, enemy variety feels like fan service.
Most episodes take place in one of Super Mario Bros. 3's eight new "lands" (including Desert Land, Dark Land, and Pipe Land), the corresponding 8-bit overworld map appearing under every title screen except "Kootie Pie Rocks" (apparently there's no "Milli Vanilli Land"). Some of the best episodes, though, take place in the "real world." Thanks to handy warp pipes, the Koopas have no problem wreaking havoc in Paris, Venice, Brooklyn, Hollywood, and (in possibly the strangest episode) Washington D.C.
Variety is The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3's saving grace. Though the stories follow a basic pattern, the absurdly constructed scenarios—often involving impossible inventions or extensive use of magic—require the deus-est of ex machinas for resolution: Someone always manages to find a magic wand or situation-specific machine after about 11 minutes. If you can leave logic at the nearest warp pipe, though, there's fun to be had. Most of the show's humor is aimed at kids, but they throw in the occasional adult reference ("7 Continents for 7 Koopas" makes a joke based on the Marcel Duchamp painting Nude Descending a Staricase, No.2, and "The Venice Menace" name-drops both Annette Funicello and Federico Fellini).
As for the DVD set, it's clear no one broke the bank. The packaging, while
colorful and attractive, is minimal (slimline cases without booklets). The
episodes are split over two discs, with a third containing a disappointing slate
of extras. These bonus features, for some reason called a "Writers
Bible," include limited concept art and character profiles. "The Back
Story" and "The Series" are little more than recaps of the
opening intro and plotline generalities—neither offers anything new if you
actually watched the episodes. The most interesting feature is a collection of
original songs—performed by the Koopa Kids' voices actors—which
appear near the end of almost every episode. These bizarre tunes have titles
like "My Karoobi," and "The Frog," which features the lyrics
"Do the Frog/Croak croak croak/Do the Frog/It's no joke/When you think
you're gonna sink/It's more easy than you think." Heady stuff.
The video quality is about as good as can be expected of a cartoon from 1990, with plenty of scratches and dust (I didn't find them distracting), and colors which are bright, if occasionally uneven. The audio has about the same quality, but with enough catchy music and sound effects from the game to please fans. The only serious problem I encountered was in the final episode, where the sound and picture dropped out at least twice. A potentially more serious problem (for Milli Vanilli fans, at least) is Shout! Factory either couldn't afford, or didn't care to pursue, the rights to include the German pop stars' original music in "Kootie Pie Rocks," replacing "Girl You Know It's True" with generic '90s synth rock. I didn't mind.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Reviewing the release of an animated kids show from nearly twenty years ago is no easy task. I can't help feeling no matter what I write about The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3: The Complete Series, I'm the wrong person to write it. I probably enjoyed The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 when I was a kid (I know I played the game). Now, though, I'm just a stuffy old grown-up. It'd be no use recommending it to modern kids, though—they wouldn't know a Koopa from a hole in the ground. That's the problem with crossing the TV-on-DVD phenomenon with childhood nostalgia: shows that aren't as good as you remember them get gussied up and shoveled out as box sets marketed to grown-ups they weren't written for.
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3: The Complete Series is the latest in a recent outpouring of Nintendo-related re-releases, from ad-movie The Wizard, to animated series Captain N:The Game Master, The Legend of Zelda, and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. I think the timing has a lot to do with the zeitgeist of Nintendo's wand-waving Wii console. Not only has the hard-to-find, easy-to-use machine brought lapsed video game players back into the fold, its Virtual Console service lets users (legally) download and play retro games from Nintendo's heyday. From a cold, marketing perspective, there's never been a better time to capitalize on gamer nostalgia.
There's a lot to like about the variety, absurdity, and authenticity of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3: The Complete Series. As adult entertainment it's less than super, but as a slice of early-'90s kid culture, it's hard not to have fun. Just make sure you leave your grown-up expectations back in the real world.
Not-a Guilty. Now get the heck outta here. Those Mushrooms need you!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• "Writers Bible," featuring:
Review content copyright © 2007 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.