Author: John Legendoffzelda
Nintendo’s new video game, Super Mario World, was released in North America in August of 1991. Even at first glance it seemed destined to be a runaway hit. It was a good game to start with, but Nintendo really pushed it along its path – bundling copies of the game with each initial Super NES, and expanding the name by transferring it to the world of television. The ability of a pop-cultural icon to cross over into a different medium isn’t a necessary mark of success, but certainly back in the H.W. Bush administration, it was a popular one; adaptations of all sorts of stuff were rampant in those days, and there was a surprisingly high amount of them in kids’ cartoons. Not too long after its debut, Mario World had its turn with the process, in a cartoon by DiC Productions. The end result was, well …
DiC Productions was a Canadian production company that rose to prominence with Inspector Gadget and went on to make many, many TV cartoons for over two decades afterwards. I’ve watched more than a fair share of them, and I don’t think a single one of them is any good; rather, I think they’re all various levels of absolute abysmal-ness. Fortunately, I find Super Mario World one of the least abysmal – the fifth time’s the charm, as it turns out. Before this show, DiC had crafted four other cartoons out of Nintendo properties; exceptionally loose adaptations of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda and Captain N: The Game Master, a through-the-looking-glass adventure show that doubled as the longest Nintendo commercial ever made. When Mario World debuted on NBC, it was paired with Captain N in a half-hour programming block, and Mario was certainly the better of the two.
Dinosaur World is where the story takes place, a fantastical land of both floating blocks and prehistoric trappings where Mario, Luigi, and Princess Toadstool live. Cavemen, as opposed to Yoshis, are the indigenous peoples here, although it could be that the place is in fact different from the game’s Dinosaur Land; whichever it is, the lone Yoshi in the show takes the side of Mario and Luigi anyway. King Koopa and his Koopalings are there as well, and they enjoy causing their usual trouble for both our heroes and all the cavemen. When that’s not the plot, the heroes might instead attempt to give the primitive cavemen modern-day inventions and concepts like automobiles, an education system, and Christmas. Basically, the whole cartoon is approximated Mario fantasy crossed with a Flintstones pastiche.
The theme song is composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, the singer for Devo and music composer for that other 1991 cartoon, Rugrats. The person singing, who is un-credited in the original show and may as well be Mark himself, is no Samuel E. Wright, but the song still goes down easily.
As with a regular DiC cartoon, the voice acting is largely from Canada, and keeping with that only a few actors rise above negligibility. Walker Boone and Second City alum Tony Rosato respectively play Mario and Luigi, and they’re both interesting to listen to; Boone has a nice rasp, and Rosato does a squeaky Mr. Ed tremble in his voice that finely accentuates his character. Harvey Atkin has a rich growl as King Koopa, sounding like a hammy medieval villain gargling gravel. He has a big presence whenever his voice is heard. Pretty much everyone else in the cast isn’t so fun to listen to; Tracey Moore sounds like she’s ordering at a restaurant with her Princess Toadstool, and though it sounds like she tries for matronly regality, she falls flat. Tara Charendoff and Paulina Gillis (better known now as Tara Strong and Tabitha St. Germain) play the Koopalings Hip and Hop and Kootie Pie, using annoying high-pitched coos and shouts that quickly get tiresome. On that note, Gorden Masten’s Big Mouth Koopa has a similarly irritating voice, and his only joke is that he never shuts his yapper. And no, having other characters get annoyed by him doesn’t make the joke funny.
Yoshi is interpreted as a little kid in the cartoon, and voiced by Andrew Sabiston. He has a squeaky voice and speaks in both third-person and fragmented sentences, like an animal learning to talk for the first time. Some of the plots hinge on the fears he has, which make for bad writing on occasion – how come he never addresses that the water he’s scared of in the episode “Fire Sale”, is far too shallow for him to drown?
Oogtar is the opposite: played by John Stocker as a replacement for his Toad character from the previous cartoons, Oogtar is a young boy who is the exact same character as Yoshi, except without all the eating and with a large amount of dated slang. He makes no sense, and is likely designed to be the one caveperson in the show with any sort of personality. But it’s not a good one, and the cavemen were better off as background figures if he was the alternative.
Super Mario World is seriously a written cartoon – one of those animated shows that’s made more with a word processor than with any drawings. Those were the norm back in its day, especially with DiC; all of the episodes would open crediting only the writers, and doing so with typeface that was obviously tacked on after the animation was finished. It happened just about the whole time in all the cartoons they produced. The animation, meanwhile, suffers tremendously; backgrounds are crude and garishly colored, characters say mouthfuls of words while their facial expressions hardly move, and cycles of movement are ridiculously limited.
Then there are some errors that just defy physics. In a shot from “Ghosts R Us”, Yoshi seems to keep his size while receding into the foreground. In “The Wheel Thing”, those makeshift cars are shown to be powered by Goombas running on the front axle, yet the way he’s running the car should be going in the other direction. Since all the effort appeared to have gone into the writing, it’s sad to hear that it isn’t much good. When it isn’t exposition, it’s limp and wordy jokes like “We’ll see about that, ya hot-headed horticultural heap!”. On top of those jokes, each episode has a stupid song as well, with lyrics that rhyme “whole” with “explode” and “sky” with “tonight”. Sometimes the plots will veer into cultural satire, and that’s when they get handled with the least tact. “King Scoopa Koopa” offers a second-hand vision of fast-food’s undesirable effects, and “Rock TV” runs on the tired notion that television will turn people into mindless slaves. Kids ought not be preached to about the world, not at least if the preaching can come from cartoons better and smarter than this one.
I don’t like the Super Mario World cartoon that much, no. But that’s okay, because I’m far from outright despising it – I’ve looked at DiC’s body of work, and they have made much worse shows than this. There are some merits to the show; Luigi and King Koopa have good voice actors, and oftentimes it’s fun to see visual conceits like cars made of wood and heavy stone, along with signposts of the show’s era like Vanilla Ice Age. The show also made use of music and sound effects straight from the video game – by way of Nintendo themselves – and those details really help connect the show with its source material. The show is the shortest of DiC’s Mario cartoons, cancelled soon after Captain N, and so its final and best episode was “Mama Luigi”. Somehow in that episode, all the idiot jokes reach a height of splendor, and at last the entire show finds its own rhythm. The bizarre and funny YouTube Poop community has since canonized this show and countless other sources, with “Mama Luigi” being the frequently-visited wellspring that inspires videos such as this.
We’re not in Dinosaur World anymore.