SOFT REBOOT: “Yoshi No Gangsta!” Deconstructing Super Mario World (The Series)

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Blog readers, meet SOFT REBOOT, my new featured section.  SOFT REBOOT plays host to a collection of nostalgia based entries, focusing on (bizarre) 90’s culture, among other things.  Our first stop is 1991’s Super Mario World…

Where do we begin?  I usually take notes for this kind of thing, but Super Mario World is so charmingly bizarre, I think I’d run out of notebooks.  No, it was easier for me to just jump into this…

For those of you who dig background info, Super Mario World  was obviously based on the 1990 Super Nintendo game of the same name.  Like me, you were probably a big fan, but did you get your copy at a McDonald’s birthday party, I ask you?  I was still big into the NES games, and I was currently working through Super Mario Bros. 3 at my dad’s house on the weekends ( he had the NES, we had the SNES after my McDonalds party).  Ecstasy abounded, and abounded and abounded…

And then one morning (Easter, to be exact.  How the hell do I remember this?) I was finger painting and caught Hip and Hop Koopa holding podoboo like fireballs, poised at some caveman’s head. As a fanatic of all things Mario, I was of course familiar with the first two seasons of the uneven series (The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, respectively.  Don’t worry, we’ll cover them…), and noticed the change in color.  Super Mario World  (or Captain N and blah, blah, blah.  I didn’t watch Captain N) was brighter than Super Mario 3, as befitted the colorful system it was loosely based on.

Anyway, the caveman’s name turned out to be Oogtar, and he was voiced by the same actor as Toad, who wasn’t around for this trip, sadly.  Oogtar was in fact not a man, but a caveboy, though my boyfriend suggested the disconnect between the producers and the animation department made it seem like Oogtar was this weird thirty year old who ran around in a loincloth saying things “bodacious,” “dinobunga,” and a ton of other jargon based on 80’s slang.  I mean, yeah…Oogtar was kind of a microcosm for the season by large.

Super Mario World episodes came in four quality rosters for me: Good (for the show), Okay, Bad, and WTF.  WTF, by the way, doesn’t denote a horrible episode–it denotes an episode where I had nooo idea WTF happened..or how.  We’ll look at some of the theories I have as to how SMW came out unevenly, but for now we’ll move on.  Time to look at examples of each of these quality rosters.

Good(ish)!

Mama Luigi

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Okay, so, this is one of those memorable episodes made more famous by YouTube.  “Mama Luigi” figures as the season’s back story dump.  It’s a surprisingly even romp from Dome City to the underground world to the sea world to Koopa’s “Neon Castle,” as they call it here.  Although Mario’s full name for it is “King Koopa’s Cony Island Disco Palace!,” which earned the episode a WTF point in my book.

Mama Luigi succeeded where most episodes failed by sheer consistency.  The story was consistent, the animation was consistent (ie: few noticeable animation flaws, the kind of colossal animation flaws that flood the show’s three-year history)and it was just damned charming and enjoyable.  I mean, as geographically varied as the episode is, it doesn’t seem as random or difficult to follow as you’d expect.  I also dug the use of continuity: Luigi explains that he and his party came to Dinosaur World (Land sometimes, like the game.  Mostly they just call it Dinosaur World) on vacation, “after banishing King Koopa from Princess Toadstool’s Mushroom Kingdom.”  This is an oddly self-aware episode!

Okay!

Send in the Clown

This is probably the most SMB3 styled episode of the season.  The plumbers, Yoshi and Princess Toadstool (remember when we called her Toadstool before the discovery of her first name, Peach?) are playing a game of Super Mario Tennis before Super Mario Tennis, when they suddenly discover all the cave people in Dome City are gone.  Koopa has lured them to a, um, circus at his Neon, blahblah, Disco Palace.  I call it the most SMB3 styled episode because more Koopalings appear on-screen together more than most episodes.  SMW featured all seven Koopalings but they didnt co-star as much as they did in the previous installment.  Over all, the episode just made larger use of the total cast, which was also very SMB3 styled…

Anyway, Mario and company take one of the convenient Neon Palace warp tunnels to the Koopaling Brothers Circus and decide, hey, they’re gonna just watch the show because “sooner or later” they’ll find out what Koopa is up to.  This is one of the reasons I list this episode as “Okay” instead of Good(ish): Mario and Luigi just have this complacency for King Koopa, this unbalanced megalomaniac who’s tried to kill them countless times.  Here they’re laughing and kicking back at his circus, and just a few episodes ago they were eating at his fast food restaurant (King Scoopa Koopa, “Maybe he’s decided to make an honest buck for a change?”)  Predictably, Mario and the cavepeople have been lured to the big top to be fed alive to the “dinosaurs,’ Koopa’s Dinorhinos and Rexes.  Oh, also, the Rexes are dressed as clowns, pretty unconvincingly.  90’s kid’s shows had a knack for overly obviously disguises (Sailor Moon comes to mind, but that’s another entry)  The Rexes are clearly Rexes wearing little snap on red noses and big shoes.  They’re. Freaking.  Rexes.  When one trips over something and loses its nose, the cavepeople jump and flee while someone screams, “Dinosaurs!”  But wow, “Foooood for the dinosaurs?” as Princess Todastool puts it?  That’s pretty dark, King Koopa.

Speaking of King Koopa, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the conch shell he’s speaking into at the beginning of the episode (because megaphones “haven’t been invented yet,” or somesuch, I’m sure the writer’s were thinking). Ummm…

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How did I put it to my boyfriend?  We were both shocked.  I checked Super Mario World out from the library and we watched the episode together.  “I realize some shells look kind of vaginal, but…”

“It has a lip?!” he responded.

…How does this even happen?  Did the animators just not look at an image of a shell before drawing, or was the flub on purpose?

So “Send in the Clown” was an Okay episode in my book, mostly for gaps in logic and animation issues.  Also, the Marios decided to put on a circus for the cavepeople by way of “celebrating” King Koopa’s latest defeat.  But, come on.  Really, Mario?  A circus?  Don’t you think the cavepeople need a break from circuses after that traumatic, near dinosaur feeding.  Mario is such a jerk in this season…

Baaaaaaad!

Party Line

This episode seriously hurt my brain.  It hurt when I watched it twenty some years ago, and it hurt when I watched it last weekend.  Ugh.  You can’t even laugh, like with the WTF episodes.  The long and the short of it is: Mario and Luigi notice the cavepeople keep hurting themselves, because they’re frigging cavepeople, and they need an emergency line.  So, he invents the telephone with a coconut shell and some vine.  Yeah.  Also, there’s a cartoony dinosaur and some killer caterpillars who chase the Mario Brothers up a tree.  Mario and Luigi decide to un-invent the telephone after banishing the dinosaur to outer space, along with the catepillars.

What do I say about the randomness of this episode?  Mario actually pulls a Starman out of thin air, because the writers sort of run out of ideas by the time he’s been chased into a wall.  The writing/animation disconnect is pretty pronounced this episode (I guess they didn’t have telephones yet, either.  I mean, it was before the cellphone, but..)  The story works in theory, but it plays out so bizarrely I don’t know how we sat through it. Did I mention I’m turning thiry next week?

WTF???

Ghosts ‘R Us

Wow… How do I pick just one WTF episode? Super Mario World is so full of random dialogue and slapstick scenarios.  I’d have to go with “Ghosts ‘R Us,” if for no other reason, Oogtar is in that Pirahna Plant (unscathed) for just way too long.  Way. Too. Long.  Also, the song, “There’s a Wizard,” an Adderol fueled rehashing of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”  You’d really just have to watch the episode.

Mario, Luigi and the Princess search the “Enchanted Forest” for Oogtar because it’s “past his bedtime,” but end up captured by the Koopa Wizard (not Magikoopa) Wizenheimer..mimer..duh..duh…something.  It’s up to Yoshi to overcome his fear of Ghost Houses (clever device, writers, owing to the game).  In the process he finds Oogtar, or Oogtar finds him and after a somewhat surreal chase scene which goes on way too long as well, he saves Oogtar from being chewed? gummed? starved to death? by a piranha plant.  By far the cutest, and also the most random moment in Super Mario World comes at the end when Yoshi is complimented on his rescuing skills.  He replies “no problemo,” in Oogtar speak, then follows it up with a faux casual whistle for NO APPARENT REASON. Whatsoever.  The Marios, Oogtar and the Princess proceed to laugh with him until the credits.

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So, yeah.. How did THAT all happen?  What went down with Super Mario World?  My thought is the art department was gravely disconnected from the writers, which is also apparent from watching The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3.  But what the latter had going for it was the foundation of a Writer’s Bible uniting the departments.  It made for a less random forum, at least.  Super Mario  World is arguably the most uneven of the seasons, and famously the last (though I attribute that more to the release of Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario RPG.  Very hard to make a series out of those games).  Even during the best episodes (“Mama Luigi”) it’s unclear what the Marios and the Koopas are still doing there, and that lack of clarity is reflected by the writers. It made for a confusing, topsy turvy season full of questionable props and perplexing gaps and flubs with the coloring and animation.

Beyond the chaos, Super Mario World is a nostalgia gold mine.  It’s the stuff 90’s culture was made of and continues to charm itself to my heart.

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“COME ON SHOWTIME! SUPER MARIO WORLD 2017!”
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