The Abysmal Super Mario World cartoon

Super Mario World cartoon
From left to right: Oogtar, Luigi, Yoshi, Princess Toadstool, Mario - from the intro sequence
This is the best the animation gets for the entire series.

Let me set the record straight - I loved the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. It was a part of my childhood afternoon routine, along with cartoons like Duck Tales, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the cheeseball movie parodies, the live-action Mario Bros., the popular music soundtrack, the works. Even though the animation wasn't going to win any awards, it was something I grew up with. It's still watchable today (if only for the unintentionally hilarious live-action segments). The Mario 3 cartoon wasn't as good as the Super Show, but it had its moments. It was by and large pretty watchable.

Cape Mario Princess and Bowser
Two scenes from the intro sequence.

The Super Mario World cartoon, on the other hand, was truly terrible. The animation suffered a great deal compared to both the Super Show and the Super Mario Bros. 3 cartoons, and there were lots of coloring and continuity mistakes. The hero characters all appear to have lost several feet of height and have very oversized heads (the Princess in particular). The voices were the same as those from the Super Mario Bros. 3 cartoon, but the writing was awful compared to any of the previous Mario cartoons. The intro sequence, obviously animated by another studio, looks far superior to the actual cartoon.

cave folks
The cave people of Dinosaur World

Toad and the Mushroom Kingdom were replaced by cave people and Dinosaur World. Cave people appeared nowhere in the Super Mario World video games, and I had been expecting lots of Yoshis instead (only the green Yoshi appears in this cartoon). Everyone in Dinosaur World spoke in baby-talk interspersed with modern slang. Yoshi had a high-pitched baby voice that was more grating than cute, and consisted mostly of dialogue like "Ooh, Yoshi hungwy!" The cave people's prehistoric antics were supposed to be comic relief, but they got tiresome quickly. Bowser and his Koopalings (with their different names, Bully and Cheatsy and the rest) reprise their roles from the Mario 3 cartoon, but even their animation is worse for wear. And each Koopaling appears in one or two episodes - they never join forces like they did in SMB3.

The role of sidekick, usually filled by Toad, was now filled by a surf-speaking midget blonde caveboy named Oogtar. He frequently got into scrapes and needed help from Mario and friends. I'm surprised they didn't throw him into the tar pits at the first opportunity. The kid was a whiny, too-cutting-edge annoyance that was one of the main reasons this show sucked so much. It was Club Mario all over again. For that matter, a lot of the show is very dated to early 90s from all the pop-culture references. I never saw this show on its first run, so it was dated even when I watched it in syndication. The "Rock TV" episode is especially bad for this. The Super Show and Mario 3 cartoons by and large avoided direct pop-culture episodes (with the exception of the "Bad Rap" and Milli Vanilli episodes).

Unlike the Mario 3 and Super Show cartoons, the Super Mario World cartoon never incorporated popular music into the episodes. This means that no music had to be removed or changed for syndication or DVD release. Instead, there are mostly-original songs sung by the Koopalings (as in the Mario 3 show), but these seem to be extremely loose parodies of popular music. "Rocking the High School" might be based on "Rock n' Roll High School", while "Time to Get Wild" sounds quite a bit like "Born to be Wild". Even the holiday-themed episode's song, "Rocking with the Sleigh Bells" sounds like a mix between "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".

SMW Heroes
The heroes of the Super Mario World cartoon in their poorly-animated glory.
How can the Princess keep her head up on that tiny neck?

The SMW episodes themselves fell into two types. There were the standard cartoon episodes, and then there were the heavy-handed morality lessons. Many episodes involved trying to teach the cave people a modern concept - telephones, cars, television, fast food, farming, football, Christmas - and watching the zany results when they didn't quite get it. It came off as a poor man's Flintstones. Of course, many of these modern contrivances were bad for the cave people, which is where the morality lessons came in. The Princess became the stick-in-the-mud who never wanted any part of things like TV and junk food, and she frequently had to bail out the rest of the characters (since it was often Bowser who introduced these things to the dimwitted cave people in the first place).

Mr. Koopa's Neighborhood Vanilla Ice Age
Mr. Koopa's Neighborhood and Vanilla Ice Age

Let me elaborate. The fast food episode was a plot contrived by Bowser to turn everyone who consumed the junk into "chickadactyls" - prehistoric-style chickens - which he then planned to cook up and serve as fast food to keep the franchise going. Bowser also invents the "Rock TV" - a stone with a Magikoopa inside that makes the pictures happen. The Rock TV is said to feature kids' shows like "Mr. Koopa's Neighborhood" (Bowser dons a sweater), music sensations like "Vanilla Ice Age" ("Ice Age Baby!"), and pro wrestling. Of course, the TVs hypnotize everyone into handing the Marios over to Bowser so he can put on a better pro-wrestling show.

Dino Riders Gang Yoshi
The Dino Riders (left) and tough-guy Yoshi

And then there was the infamous "Yoshi joins a gang" episode. Yoshi eats the plumbing that Mario and Luigi are working on, and they get upset with him. Yoshi wants to prove himself, so he leaves "Dome Castle" where they apparently all live, and joins up with a bunch of bikers known as the "Dino Riders". They think he's a "mega wimp" of course (Yoshi's attempt at graffiti results in a smiley face), but they let him join anyway. The truth is, the bikers want Yoshi to turn the Mario Bros. over to them, so they'll get a big reward from Bowser. All in all, a very special episode about true friendship, and not joining gangs, and not painting your fingernails while riding a motorcycle. Cheesy isn't the word to describe this.

Clown Car Battle
Scenes from the Clown Car Battle

A few episodes were halfway decent. One is a rough retelling of the Super Mario World game storyline from Luigi's perspective as he tries to raise a baby Yoshi ("Mama Luigi"). Another ("Send in the Clown") contains a good portrayal of the clown-copter battle from the end of the game - including all of Bowser's different attacks. Even the way Mario defeats Bowser (by throwing Mecha Koopas at him) is faithful to the game. The haunted house episode ("Ghosts "R" Us") is okay - at least it doesn't try to teach you a life lesson.

Triangle Block
Using the Triangle Block to scale a wall

The episodes do feature sound effects and music from the games, and a number of enemy characters and items make an appearance as well. Some episodes contain "action" sequences that feel like they're straight out of the game. These are usually the places that the original songs were added, and the sequences rarely have anything to do with the plot of the episode. The Mario-game inclusions feel very forced - you could easily take another cast of characters and plug them into the same scenarios without missing a beat. The Super Mario World cartoon show originally aired with Season 3 of Captain N: The Game Master, which also suffers from poorer quality artwork, animation, and writing. The whole project looks sloppy and rushed (especially with the multitude of coloring mistakes).

The list of episodes in order (list courtesy of Wikipedia - cynical summaries by me)

  1. Fire Sale - Kootie Pie (AKA Wendy O.) kidnaps Mama Fireplant (apparently a local celebrity) to heat up her ice palace. And the whole thing melts.

  2. The Wheel Thing - Let's give the cave people cars!

  3. Send in the Clown - Bowser puts on a circus so that he can feed the cave people to his dinosaur minions. Actually, that's not a bad idea. Yay Bowser!
    This episode contains a decent recreation of the final battle in the SMW game. Worth seeing.

  4. Ghosts 'R' Us - An evil Magikoopa with an unpronounceable name captures our heroes for no good reason and traps them in a ghost house. Can Yoshi overcome his fear of ghosts to save them all? At least it gets the "Yoshi won't enter a ghost house" concept straight from the game.

  5. The Night Before Cave Christmas - Let's teach the cave people about Christmas (the secular version) and presents!

  6. King Scoopa Koopa - Let's sell the cave people fast food!

  7. Born to Ride - The "Yoshi joins a Gang" episode.

  8. Party Line - Let's give the cave people a phone system!

  9. Gopher Bash - Let's teach the cave people farming!

  10. Rock TV - Let's sell the cave people TV sets!

  11. The Yoshi Shuffle - Let's teach the cave people football!

  12. A Little Learning - Let's teach the cave people in elementary school! And Koopalings too, while we're at it!

  13. Mama Luigi - An episode based on the story of Super Mario World the game. Not a bad retelling, and it keeps the prehistoric hijinx to a minimum. Worth seeing.

So there you have it. This cartoon series is set to be released on DVD by Shout! Factory sometime soon, but I don't know that I'd go running out to the store to buy it. It really is pretty awful, and I can't stomach more than one or two episodes at a time. If you absolutely must experience this for yourself, do a search for Super Mario World cartoon on YouTube - most of the episodes are preserved there in varying degrees of quality.

But don't say I didn't warn you.

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