Back in the 80s, during my early childhood, there were certainly a lot of cartoons that I loved. Inspector Gadget, The Smurfs, He-Man, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Garfield & Friends, Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, The Carebears, etc. Not to mention all the classic cartoons from Disney, MGM, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, etc. that they used to play regularly on TV. It's safe to say I've always loved animation, pretty much all my life. As far back as three or four years old, I've also had an avid love of video games. In fact the two earliest games I can remember seeing or "playing" were Pac-Man and Dig Dug in the arcade. As it turns out, one of the earliest cartoons that I remember watching, was an early 80s Pac-Man cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera, something I'll surely give it's own blog at a future date. Given those two great childhood loves, it wasn't until I discovered the Nintendo Entertainment System (a bit later than most kids), and first saw Super Mario Bros. being played, that I went from love to childhood obsession. Super Mario Bros., and later especially Super Mario Bros. 3, really kicked off arguably my most passionate (of many) childhood interests. And so when I discovered there was a Super Mario Bros. based cartoon? It was automatically my new favorite cartoon of the time.
|The Bros., hangin' with Sgt. Slaughter.|
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show first debuted on Monday, September 4th, 1989. It was developed and produced by animation company DiC, who were also responsible for other great 80s cartoons such as Heathcliff, Inspector Gadget, and The Real Ghostbusters. The show consisted of two segments. The first was a live action segment where the voices of Mario and Luigi, played by former professional wrestler and famous wrestling manager "Captain" Lou Albano and actor Danny Wells, also portrayed the characters in front of the camera, in comedic skits usually involving some kind of celebrity guest. These guests were typically people famous at the time, such as child actor Brian Bonsall of Family Ties fame, Wheel of Fortune personality Vanna White, Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson, disc jockey and voice actor Gary Owens, and even some of Captain Lou's old wrestling contemporaries Sgt. Slaughter and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. These live action skits would bookend the show, opening it with the setup that would end in a cliffhanger, and then once the cartoon episode for the day had concluded, the live action skit would come back and wrap up the show. The nice thing about these skits, was the chemistry between Albano and Wells, who you could tell genuinely got along, and really put themselves in the roles. Albano would reveal in interviews years later that he and Wells were never given a full script for these scenes, but rather a general outline of what was going to happen, and then the two of them would generally just ad lib their lines, in front of a live studio audience no less. Given that fact, it makes you appreciate these purposefully-silly segments even more, as much of the ad-libbed material Albano and Wells came up with was genuinely funny and entertaining.
|"Mario, we ain't in Brooklyn anymore!"|
As for the cartoon itself, for a young Mario fan, it honestly couldn't have been much better. Having just released in North America in October of 1988, Super Mario Bros. 2 was still very fresh on kids' minds, and as such, it served in some ways as the biggest influence on the show. The main protagonists of the show were of course Mario and Luigi, voiced by Albano and Wells, but they were also joined, in SMB2 fashion, by Princess Toadstool and Toad, voiced by Jeanie Elias and John Stocker. The primary villain, naturally was King Bowser Koopa, voiced by Harvey Atkin, but given the influence of SMB2, he often employed enemies and bosses from that game as his lackeys, such as Mouser, Tri-Clyde, Fry Guy, Clawgrip, Shy Guys, Sniffits, Cobrats, Beezos, Flurries, Albatoss' and Bob-Ombs, etc. In fact the only enemies from SMB2 never present in the cartoon, were Hawkmouth and the game's final boss Wart. The show also utilized concepts from SMB2, such as Bowser using magic potion bottles to create doorways and escape, or the Mario Bros. picking up and hurling objects such as vegetables and blocks at enemies. The show's producers even went so far as to use mainly sound effects directly from SMB2, such as the throwing, hitting, jumping etc. for effects in the cartoon itself. However, with all of this influence from the second game, there was still plenty of influence from the original Super Mario Bros. as well, such as the heroes frequently encountering and using Fire Flowers, jumping and breaking blocks, as well as Bowser's more traditional minions being frequently mixed in with the Mario 2 baddies, such as Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and even the occasional appearance of Bloopers, Lakitu and his Spinies.
|"Koopa Pack, Attack!"|
The general basis of the cartoon was the same as the games, seeing Mario and his companions fight against Bowser and his forces, who are trying to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom. But in a twist on that theme, and most likely to give the writers more room to work and create variety, in the show Mario and his pals travel to different made up lands, which Bowser is inevitably also trying to conquer, where the heroes then have to thwart Bowser's evil (and often hilarious) schemes and save the day. Each episode basically had some kind of theme, and often the episodes would be homages or parodies of popular movies or fiction. For example, there were episodes based on Dracula and Frankenstein, James Bond, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Hercules, Indiana Jones, Mad Max, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, Sherlock Holmes, and even Godzilla (naturally one of my favorite episodes). As seen in the picture above, Bowser and Co. would often adopt outfits or personalities fitting the theme of the episode (and concurrent land they're trying to conquer), with Bowser himself adopting various guises and nicknames, such as Koopenstein, Count Koopula, Koopa Claus, Koop-zilla, and even Robo-Koopa (a parody of Robocop). Inevitably, the heroes would defeat Koopa, which would usually send him slinking off to the next episode, often with the classic line "He who Koops and runs away, lives to Koop another day!"
|"Does anybody have some spare ravioli?"|
Now, one thing I should point out, for those of you who may have never seen these old cartoons, is the portrayal of Mario and Luigi themselves. As established in the show, Mario and Luigi (probably taking some cues from the series prequel of sorts, simply titled Mario Bros.), are natives of Brooklyn, New York, in the real world Earth. They were plumbers who accidentally found themselves sucked down a drain and wound up in the magical Mushroom Kingdom (which is also consistent with the NA booklet for SMB1). Because they're established as being from Brooklyn, they have heavy Brooklyn accents, and this is how I grew up with Mario and Luigi, a couple of tough New Yorkers. They were even (more or less) depicted this way in the infamous (and I argue still highly entertaining for what it was) Super Mario Bros. movie. Now somewhere along the line, when Nintendo decided to give Mario a bit of voice for Super Mario 64, they hired talented voice actor Charles Martinet, who in his audition, instead of going for the gruff NY accent, decided Mario should have a more stereotypical Italian accent. As history would have it, the NA Nintendo reps loved it, and that is how Mario has sounded ever since. Now mind you, I don't MIND the way Mario sounds now, it's grown on me over time, and I've accepted that that is how Mario is seen by most folks today. BUT, the Mario I grew up with was a pint-sized tough guy plumber from the mean streets of Brooklyn, voiced by Captain Lou Albano (and later by Walker Boone, but more on that later), and that's how I'll always prefer it.
|"By the power of Grayskull....."|
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one other element to this show, that pretty much put something that was already perfect, over the top. In it's original 1989 run, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was broadcast in syndication every weekday. For the Monday through Thursday episodes, the show featured a Mario cartoon. But on Fridays, it would feature a special "The Legend of Zelda" cartoon, which would still be book-ended by live Mario Bros. Plumbing segments. During the M-Th episodes, right before finally wrapping up whatever zany situation was occurring in the live skit, they would have one of the characters say something along the lines of "While we find out what happened to Mario's pajamas, watch these scenes from the next Legend of Zelda!" (I don't think they ever actually said that one, but it's still funny). The Zelda cartoon itself, was very true to the games it was based on (with Zelda 2 also having just released the year prior in 1988 in NA), utilizing music and sound effects from the show, as well as having Gannon as the primary villain, with appearances by just about every enemy from the first two Zelda games at some point. The show still had a goofy tone, of course, but it was good entertainment. Though people who are aware of it today, are likely most aware of Link's catch-phrase from the show, where every time Zelda would get pissed at him for something, or crack a joke at his expense, he would exclaim "Well excuuuuuuuuse ME, princess!" (a line, by the way, I still use on my friends from time to time). While goofy or funny in tone, these episodes still managed to also retain a nice sense of epic fantasy adventure that really fit the games, and it was cool to have basically Nintendo's two biggest franchises represented in one show.
|"Well Excuuuuuuuuse ME!"|
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show's original run lasted from September '89 through December 1st '89, with 65 total episodes (52 Mario, 13 Zelda). To be completely honest, I'm not sure whether or not I actually caught the show when it originally aired, because it was continued in reruns until September 1991. And even beyond that, it was picked up that same month (and year) by The Family Channel, and would continue to air in some form until 1994. Regardless, it was one of my fav. cartoons of the time, and remains one of my favorite animated shows of all time. It's naturally great material for kids, but it also had really clever writing, and can easily be great entertainment for us "big kids" as well. One disappointing element of the show that was dropped upon later re-airings and in the DVD releases, is that originally, every Super Mario Bros. cartoon episode would feature actual hit songs from various eras of music, at some point in the episode to accompany the action. Some of these songs would include "Great Balls of Fire", "La Bamba", "Workin For a Livin'", "Kung Fu Fighting", and even Michael Jackson's "Beat It". But as I said, in later airings and for DVD releases, these songs were removed and replaced with stock music from the show, most likely due to royalty issues. Granted, it's more important that the show made great use of versions of actual music from the SMB1 and SMB2 games, but it was still just another cool little feature that the cartoons used real songs too.
So that about does it for one of my best childhood memories, when it comes to shows that I loved. The entire Mario episodes can be found on DVD, and the Zelda episodes are also available on their own separate DVD. Though sadly, while all 52 Mario cartoons are there, for some stupid reason not all of the live skits were included (though most are). It's a show I still think fondly of, and still get a big smile on my face when I pop in one of the DVDs from time to time. Quite frankly, it's an overused saying, but it's really true that they "just don't make shows like this anymore", because they don't. It was truly a one of a kind show, and it's really too bad that it's run only lasted one season, because more certainly would have been welcome. That doesn't mean that it didn't "live on" in a way, though, as it lasted in re-runs until 1994, but also because it would be followed up by a "successor" cartoon that at the time I loved just as much, which will be the focus of my next entry. So stay tuned cats and kittens, as there is more animated Mario goodness just around the corner!
Till then, I'll leave you with the most fitting way to end this particular topic that there is. Enjoy!