When Nintendo announced the cast for the upcoming Super Mario movie, it sent shockwaves across the internet, with everyone rushing to social media to give their opinion on the chosen actors. However, this isn't the first time Mario has headed to the big screen. And, much like the upcoming movie, the previous Mario movies did some surprising things with the popular videogame franchise. However, Mario's mostly forgotten first movie was actually an anime.
1986 was a big year for the Italian plumber. In June of that year, Super Mario Bros 2 hit Japanese consoles, and the character was riding a massive wave of popularity. Nintendo decided to capitalize on this by working with Grouper Productions, director Masami Hata and writer Hideo Takayashiki to create the feature-length Mario adventure Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! Or, in English, Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! This movie hit theaters on July 20, 1986, making this film one of the first videogame movies to ever exist, tieing with Running Boy: Star Soldier no Himitsu, which arrived in theaters on the same day.
The film's story is slightly strange, especially to modern audiences, as it presents a unique take on the Mario franchise's familiar characters. But it should be remembered that this film came out just after Super Mario Bros 2, before Mario and his friends had well-defined lore. The film opens with Mario playing a game on his Famicom. However, suddenly a woman appears on screen, fleeing from various enemies. This woman quickly dives out of the screen and appears in Mario's living room. This woman explains that she is Princess Peach and that she is on the run from King Koopa. However, before she can do much else, King Koopa jumps out of the TV. Mario and King Koopa fight, but the villain gets the upper hand and grabs Peach, dragging her back into the TV.
Mario is obviously confused by all of this, but finds Peach's necklace on the floor. The next day Mario and Luigi go to work at their grocery store (they're not plumbers in this version), where Mario shows Luigi the necklace. Luigi identifies the necklace as a "Visionary Jewel" that can guide the owner to the Mushroom Kingdom, a land packed full of treasure. Then a dog-like creature called Kibidango comes into the store and steals the jewel. Mario and Luigi chase the dog and go through some pipes that lead them to the Mushroom Kingdom.
However, the kingdom is in disarray. Kinoko Sennin, a man in a white robe, informs the brothers that King Koopa has taken over and used magic to turn the citizens into blocks. He also says that Koopa plans to marry Peach on Friday the 13th. However, the brothers can stop this wedding and save the kingdom by collecting a mushroom, a flower and a star.
With this knowledge, Mario and Luigi set out on an adventure to grab the items, encountering many classic Mario enemies on the way. After collecting the items, Mario and Luigi go to the wedding and defeat Koopa. Peach thanks Mario and takes back her necklace, saying she is destined to marry whoever wears its exact copy. Mario says he will find it. But Kibidango turns into a human and says he is Haru, Prince of the Flower Kingdom and owner of the second necklace. And, in a surprisingly melancholic ending, Mario, despite obviously having a crush on Peach, accepts this marriage and heads home with Luigi.
Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! is a fascinating movie, as it deviates from accepted Mario lore in several ways. Most notably, Luigi is portrayed as money-hungry and slightly angry, something that makes him feel more like Wario than Luigi. However, the film also marks the debut of several elements that would become franchise staples, including Koopa having a crush on Peach and him being more dorky than evil.
After its theatrical run, the film was released on VHS and Betamax. However, this tape was only made in small numbers and only in Japan. Because of this, copies of the film are rare today, with pristine copies demanding high prices on auction websites. In fact, it is easier to find promotional merchandise than it is to find the actual film.
Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! is an excellent historical curiosity. It is great to see this early take on Mario before later games fleshed out and defined the characters and the world. While it feels strange today, the writers and directors have to be commended for turning a relatively simple game into a complete film. Hopefully, one day it gets a proper re-release so more people can watch and enjoy this Mario curiosity.