“Holy Grails” are a funny thing. You can spend years hunting for them and pining for them and dreaming about them, but as soon as they’ve finally been procured, they lose their luster pretty quickly.
Such was the case, at least for me, with the once-legendary Super Mario Bros. Japanese animated film, The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach. I read about its existence online back in the late ’90s and saw glimpses of the video cassette box and even the occasional screenshot from a blurry, 30th generation tape. I’d always wanted to see it as an animated film that “faithfully” adapted the plot of the original Super Mario Bros. Nintendo game intrigued the hell out of me. Then, in 2007, it was finally leaked online. And I watched it. My response? “That was neat.” And I promptly never thought about it again.
These sorts of things are always more fun to hunt for than actually possess.
Anyway, I was reminded of the film’s existence a little while ago and, naturally, that also reminded me of all the years I spent pining for it and fruitlessly trying to find a copy on the online bootleg tape scene of the late ’90s/early ’00s. So for nostalgia’s sake, I thought I’d revisit it after 6 years and see if it was better than “neat.”
The plot of this ostentatiously titled hour-long film is a pretty precise recreation of the plot from the original Nintendo game. The evil King Koopa (Akiko Wada) has invaded the Mushroom Kingdom and kidnapped Princess Peach (Mami Yamase) with designs on marrying her. Princess Peach magically sends a message across dimensions to the Mario Bros., enlisting their help to save her and her kingdom. Mario (Toru Furuya) is immediately smitten with the Princess and vows to heroically come to her rescue. Luigi (Yu Mizushima), on the other hand, is more smitten with all the gold coins laying around.
Writer Hideo Takayashiki pretty much takes the story from the game manual and translates it directly to film with few major improvisations on his part. It starts with Mario and Luigi traveling down a warp pipe into the Mushroom Kingdom and ends with the Bros. storming King Koopa’s castle and rescuing the Princess. Everything in-between is them getting there by beating up minor enemies and collecting familiar power-ups.
To Takayashiki’s credit, he manages to fit every enemy and nearly every stage from the game into the film. But it can get a little tedious and weird, especially the way he constantly resorts to traveling montages as a substitute for scene-to-scene cohesion. Seriously, the entire film is structured like this: The Mario Bros. enter a stage, fight some game enemies, beat them and then there’s a montage of them walking set to a song called “Doki-Doki Do It!” Then they repeat the cycle 3 or 4 more times until they reach the castle. It’s fun seeing the familiar settings and creatures of the games faithfully brought to life, but the movie can be a bit of a bore as it sticks to a very rigid pacing formula.
Having been released in 1986, it predates Mario’s American animated exploits by 3 years. I grew up on the DiC cartoons, and while I can’t sit through them as an adult, I did watch them religiously as a kid. That being said, even as a child, I didn’t think they had a whole lot in common with the NES games I equally enjoyed. So watching The Great Mission to blah blah blah, there’s something satisfying about seeing the Mario games translated to animation more or less faithfully.
I say “more or less” because there are a few oddities here and there. The Mario Bros. are portrayed as grocery store clerks in the American Southwest instead of plumbers from Brooklyn. Luigi is strangely garbed in yellow rather than green. And the ending has a major twist that introduces a surprise new character that warps Mario right off to the Friend Zone.
I suppose this could be counted as an oddity.
There are some weird characterizations as well, but I don’t think I can call them “changes” or “mistakes”, as this film likely predates the portrayals we recognize now ‘n days. King Koopa, for example, is a whiney doofus with a nasally voice rather than the snarling, evil behemoth we know him as today. Luigi is probably the most distracting, as his primary character trait in this film is that he’s incredibly greedy. Granted, his modern portrayal as being shy at best and cowardly at worst I want to say was introduced by the DiC cartoons, which as I mentioned, began 3 years after this film.
Putting aside discussions on “faithfulness”, I think what really hurts The Great Mission to Find a Shorter Title is how incredibly… *bland* it is.
The animation from Grouper Productions is competent and consistent, but it’s not impressive in the least and looks to have been done on a rather small budget. There’s quite frankly no “oomph” to any of it and it suffers from a lot of obvious cost-cutting techniques, such as the aforementioned multitude of tiresome traveling montages. Worse yet is how obvious it is that the film was animated first and the voice track was dubbed over the finished product. Now, I know that this was a common tradition in Japanese animated productions of the past, but that still doesn’t excuse how terribly out of sync the voice track is with the animation. Half the time the characters speak like they’re in an old Fleischer Bros. Popeye cartoon, as they’re constantly making remarks and asides while their lips are not moving.
And the humor in the film is also really stale. Although it was never released outside of Japan, a part of me wonders if Grouper Productions perhaps had International appeal in mind when they were making it. I suggest this because most of the gags are recycled cliches from ancient American cartoons rather than anything you’d find familiar as “Japanese humor”. Stuff like Mario using pepper to make a Piranha Plant sneeze, or Luigi walking off a cliff across thin air and not beginning to fall until he looks down. Hackneyed old run of the mill shtick like that.
The only moment in the film that really stood out to me and really made me say “Wait… WHAT?” did so for pretty much all the wrong reasons.
During the final battle with King Koopa, Mario eats both the power mushroom and the fire flower. Does he grow huge or gain fireball power? Nope. Instead, a bowl of Mario Furikake appears before him and he hungrily devours it while looking at the camera and remarking how tasty it is.
Five seconds of You Tube research later and I found that Mario Furikake was a tie-in product released at the same time as this film. The commercials even use the same voice actors and animation studio. So the film takes time out to blatantly endorse a tie-in product in the most shameless way possible. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s FUNNY… but in a “laughing at the movie” kind of way.
And it’s the only laugh you’ll get outta this film.
Anyway, I sound like I’m coming down pretty hard on The Great Mission to Sell More Furikake, but the movie isn’t without it’s charms. King Koopa aside, the voices are all well-cast and befitting of the characters (even if they never match the lip sync). I enjoyed Peach’s portrayal, too, as she’s not shown to be helpless or resigned in her captivity. She actively tries to outwit Koopa and escape on her own, refuses him at the altar and physically fights back whenever threatened. Sure, she pines for Mario to save the day and he eventually does, but she doesn’t sit idly by, expecting him to do everything, either.
In the end, even after a reevaluation, I *still* found the movie to be only “neat”. It’s a rarity, a curiosity and an ex-Holy Grail, and I’d like to thank whoever made it available online 6 years ago, but it really is kind of boring. Your mileage may vary, though.
Also, Sonic the Hedgehog had a better movie. Oh yeah, I went there.
If you do some digging, you can find most/if not all of the The Great Mission To Rescue Princess Peach! on YouTube. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.