Before this deal of an animated Mario movie was written between Nintendo and Illumination, heck, 7 years before the infamous live-action film with Bob Hopkins and John Leguizamo, Nintendo already had its Super Mario anime movie, with Super Mario: The Great Mission To Rescue Princess Peach, based on the seminal Super Mario Bros game, which was released just 1 year prior.
While not totally unknown, for years it had been quite the rare, obscure and elusive piece of forgotten Mario media, with some horrible VHS rips flying around the web of thing, until some absolute chads in 2021 came together to fund and execute a 4K restoration project of the film from a rare (possibly even the only surviving) 16 mm print secured by another madlad called “Carnivol”, and then put it on Youtube for free, with updated (and upgraded) english subs.
So you can easily check it out there, not gonna put the link directly because Nintendo, but the effort it’s more than laudable and the people behind the restoration deserve some money thrown at them.
Back to the movie, as you can surmise this is one of the earlier, if not the first movie based on a videogame, and was oddly released the very same day as Running Boy: Star Soldier’s Secret, the movie adaption of Hudson Soft’s Star Soldier, fittingly enough.
So they didn’t wait around much, and nowadays there’s some bitter hindsight to behold as the Super Mario anime movie from 1986 was also one of the first isekais, and apparently the first isekai anime adventure to involve videogames. Talk about behind ahead of its time, terrifyingly so.
The plot sees Mario playing Famicom/NES late at night, when in the TV he sees a woman being chased by enemies, then jumping out of the TV to ask for Mario’s help, introducing herself as Princess Peach, only for then the villain, King Koopa, to also come out of the TV, easily defeating Mario, kidnapping Peach and going back into the TV.
Peach does leave behind a small diamond necklace, which the next day is recognized by Mario’s brother, Luigi, as a gem that can lead people to the mystical Mushroom Kingdom, and soon the necklace is snapped by a weird dog-caterpillar creature that leads the two brothers in the titular rescue mission of the princess, requiring the duo to find the three magical power ups in order to defeat the tyrant Koopa that’s devastating the kingdom after Peach refused to marry him.
Directed by Masami Hata and produced by the infortunately named “Grouper Production” (FIY it’s not a typo, it’s a type of fish, which they included in their company logo to be clear), which had worked in many children series like Kero Kero Keroppi, some Hello Kitty anime projects, Kiki and Lala OAVs, and even The Osamu Tezuka Story: I Am Son Goku movie, the latter i feel being kinda indicative of how old school the studio was, since despite this being made in the mid-80s, some of the designs (or the choices of color palettes, for that matter) do feel very old fashioned, especially for the wizard that summons the brothers there and the cater-dog-pillar Kibidango, we gotta have the sidekick helping animal of sorts.
Not a diss, but it’s that kind of old anime where you can easily guess what will happen or will move in a scene or the next as they colored a patch of rocks or bushes in a way distinct from the identical objects they’re close by, just keep that in mind alongside the target audience being children… which does explain the shameless self-advertisements, with the brothers hitting blocks and finding cups of “Mario Ramen” (or “Mario Rice Seasoning”, that was a thing at the time i guess), with Mario exclaims after eating “stuff it’s good folks”. Of course it is.
In terms of characters, Mario is played as the straighforward hero you’d expect that loves Princess Peach, while Luigi is actually the greedy (obsessively so) one, quite different from his cowardly persona that would become standardized (especially after Luigi’s Mansion), Peach has more personality (and some craftiness, as she tries to trick Bowser into a locked chest to escape him)… and Bowser it’s a more playful, silly-ish version of himself, as he mostly tries to please the princess’ whims like a whipped boyfriend, though i’m not sure if i like the voice he’s given here by Korean-japanese singer Akiko Wada.
Voice acting it’s decent, btw, just Bowser it’s not exactly what i expect to hear, same for the film peculiar choice of songs, with this rockabilly-esque theme “Rock N Rollers” and some jpop love song, the latter feeling almost random if you somehow watched the thing and forgot that Mario basically went on this isekai quest because he fell in love at first sight with Peach.
Only to get “Shirakami Fubuki-zoned” harder than existence.
But he takes it like a true champ.
The movie it’s obviously aimed at a young audience, but it’s a decent experience regardless, there are some funny fourth wall-breaking gags, expecially for animation and videogames fans, as the film it’s actually a faithful adaptation of the game (singular, since Super Mario Bros came out just the year before), down to using the sound effects straight up from the game, having the familiar enemies and items and basic plot.
Heck, we even see Mario grab Bowser by the tail and swing him around, 10 years before Super Mario 64 was released.
Still, i have the make it clear this is another occasion where the history and legacy of the opus reviewed it’s far more important and interesting than the “product” itself, because if it wasn’t Mario it would be an ok children animated film that exists to promote something else more than anything, its history and restoration being an incredible example of what fans can accomplish when Nintendo has no interest in preserving its own products… and it’s just 1 hour long, so with this new found availability online i have to stress you really SHOULDN’T watch this old Mario movie for free on Youtube. In 4K, with english subs. Really shouldn’t do that at all.
See you soon for the review of the new Super Mario animated movie!