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Cartoon Intro Cavalcade: Super Mario Bros. Super Show

by on January 31, 2011

In 1989, the Nintendo Entertainment System was at the height of its dominance.  Millions of kids around the world were becoming familiar with characters such as Mario and Luigi.  Merchandising was inevitably all over the place, and a cartoon of course was quick to arrive.  But DiC didn’t just produce a Mario cartoon, oh no.  They produced the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.

Instead of a half-hour Mario cartoon, 12 minute animated shorts would be sandwiched between live-action skits featuring wrestling personality Captain Lou Albano and actor Danny Wells as Mario and Luigi, respectively.  (Albano and Wells would perform their voices in the cartoons as well.)  The live action Mario and Luigi would encounter creatures both real (Vanna White, Nicole Eggert, Magic Johnson) and fantastic (Dracula, Inspector Gadget, Cyndi Lauper), while their animated counterparts would adventure in a world loosely based on the US Super Mario Bros. 2.

If this were Disney or Hanna-Barbera, both the live-action and animation would be handsomely produced – and handsomely budgeted.  Unfortunately, this is DiC, which seemed determined to live down to its derisive nickname of “Do It Cheaply”.

As you can see, Albano and Wells are worked into the title sequence, and while it was never going to be near Roger Rabbit quality, the illusion is glaringly obvious and extremely cheap.  Albano and Wells are required to dance, and while they’re obviously into their roles, they unfortunately have the grace and coordination of two middle-aged white men.

Not that the animation is much better – it’s a little loose, quite glitch-filled, and there’s some segments that don’t really make much sense.  Hardcore Mario fans will note the rather egregious liberty that sees Mario gain the fire power and colors from touching the star (which makes him invincible and rainbow-colored in the games).

Then there’s the music.  In one of their last collaborations with DiC, Shuki Levy and his team of musicians over at Saban Entertainment decided to take Koji Kondo’s iconic Super Mario Bros. theme and turn it into… some not very good rap music.  Granted, I can’t think of any other way you could adapt it into something fresh, but the vocals are weak and the hook incomprehensible.  (“Hooked on the Brothers?”  What does that even mean?)

Well, okay, I can think of one other way to adapt it – turn it into a goofy party song sung by Captain Lou.

“Do The Mario” closed out every episode of the Super Show, and it’s just as badly produced as the opening.  Instead of random snippets of Albano dancing as Mario, we get a whole end credits’ worth, edited so that he can dance on top of the surreal desert rock formations in the distance.  Like before, he deserves credit for being into the role, but he essentially has no rhythm.  The directorial style seems to indicate that they went with “one take and we’re done”, as there are a number of errors during the dance that weren’t corrected or reshot.  (Most notably, Albano does a weird shift as he attempts to hold his pose at the end.)

Albano is just as unconvincing a singer as he is a dancer, performing his lines in a half-shout/half-sing delivery.  He’s not helped by Levy and his team – after 20 years I have still not figured out how to “Do The Mario”.  The rendition of the music is a little more faithful to Kondo’s original soundtrack than the opening rap.

The years haven’t been kind to the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.  Nintendo’s depiction of the character has grown to be much different than DiC’s cartoons.  Charles Martinet, not Lou Albano, became Nintendo’s “official” Mario voice, and his lighter, more joyful plumber is certainly a contrast to Albano’s gruff portrayal.  Nintendo has, over the years, distanced themselves from the Super Show and DiC’s Nintendo cartoons in general.

So, for the most part, it’s a sloppily produced production, both in live action and animation… and yet it’s hard not to enjoy it on some level.  It’s not award-winning, but it’s a piece of late 80s kitsch that’s enjoyable in a primal “so bad it’s good” way.  On that level, DiC succeeded.

Now excuse me while I try to do the Mario.


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