The Heart of Super Mario Bros.
Learn to fall, save them all
One of my happiest memories as a kid is playing video games with my brother Jay. Though we didn't have a working Nintendo controller, owing to the fact that it broke down before we could properly harness its power, he found a way to put games on our PC. We aren't good in the two-player modes because he has more skill than I do but it was wonderful to watch him play solo, mastering the save scum and jumps.
Jay took me to see the Super Mario Bros. movie this past weekend. It reminded me of those happy times. I couldn't stop laughing and even cried at some points from laughing that long. While I didn't understand all the video game references, I certainly did love them. It was fun to see banana peel sabotages, and Mario Kart homages.
The last time that the Mario brothers got a feature film, they got scammed by directorial drama and a constantly changing script. Instead of a fun adventure that brought Nintendo to the silver screen, theater-goers were subjected to Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo's attempts to salvage what was already beyond saving.
This film was different. It was a love letter to Mario games. From the many musical motifs to the animated Easter eggs, you can tell the entire production crew loved working on each frame. Nintendo has delivered on its promise to ensure that future features have top-notch quality control and that Mario would sweep the box office.
Super Mario Bros. Asked Why You Were Playing
Typically in Super Mario, you are saving someone. Why? Because Mario is a hero. He may fix your leaks, but he also wants to give you a safe life. If someone is safe, then he can focus on the plumbing. The movie shows that he prefers a world where he receives validation for fixing a leaky faucet, or for construction work.
Super Mario Bros. has you save the princess, while your motley crew in the second game travels through dreamland to rescue a kingdom. In Super Mario Bros. 3, more often than not you are rescuing kings from Bowser's children, who have transformed the royals for giggles.
The movie makes us reconsider just who Mario is saving. It's not the princess; Peach can take care of herself and decides to become Mario's mentor. Nor is he saving the Mushroom Kingdom or other worlds initially; Mario only left Brooklyn a few hours ago and didn't know that new worlds existed.
No, Mario is saving Luigi, his little brother. He finds out that Luigi has been transported to the Darklands, where Bowser rules. When Peach tells him that to face Bowser, she needs to summon an army, Mario insists he's coming with her to rescue Luigi. He doesn't care that it's dangerous, or that he may die. Luigi needs him. And he is right; Bowser tortures Luigi onscreen, and prepares to sacrifice him later.
With this motivation in mind, the obstacle course becomes more poignant. Mario falls multiple times off the ledge during his training. Unlike the game, this doesn't kill him because Peach has programmed safety tunnels all around the floating arena and in the water. He takes many hits, more than Peach expected, because he spends the whole night trying. Luigi's life is on the line, and he's always promised to take care of his brother.
Mario never gives up, something that Peaches praises. He has too much at stake to think of wimping out, whether it's starting a business or stopping a big bad from using a star. Luigi motivates him to get back up each time, and he soon gains more people to protect.
How does Mario save everyone? By learning to save one person. It's a nice homage to the game, where you save multiple worlds, and bond with all of these NPCs.
Learning to Fall Is The First Step
Mario had to learn how to fall before he could leap in the movie. Peach inadvertently reveals she nailed the obstacle course on the first try, but Mario is not familiar with mechanical plants or falling supports. He memorizes the different pitfalls, and practices using his power-ups, and still doesn't stick the landing. Yet Peach marks his journey and passes him for sheer determination. The training ensures that when Donkey Kong puts him through the wringer, he can fight back and gain an advantage.
What's more, Mario suffers the biggest fall in the climax, physically speaking. Bowser thrashes him in Brooklyn, where no power-ups exist, and his family's life is on the line. Mario has to power through deadly injuries to get back up and reach the star. Bowser taunts him, but he remembers that Peach, Donkey Kong, Toadstool, and Luigi are out there. So he grits his teeth, works through the pain, and returns to the New York streets.
People had to see Mario fall so they could appreciate his success more. Watching him on the obstacle course, I winced as he fell because I too have slipped off those platforms and fallen many times. When you can see the bruises and scars from the falls and hits you take, it makes you savor the victory that much more.
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