During the late 80s Nintendo was on fire in the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System came storming into living rooms, basements, and dens across the country making Mario and Luigi household names. In addition to video games, there were tons of licensing deals for clothing, school supplies, bedding, you name it. If it could be sold to a kid, then it had a Mario on it. This naturally made everything associated with Nintendo desirable for things like cartoons. Other older video game stars made that leap before Mario and found success, so it’s no surprise that Nintendo was willing to take the plunge as well.
Good old DiC was the first to come calling. By now, DiC is practically on top of the cartoon world in the US. The company has had some big hits while the former Hanna-Barbera juggernaut is starting to flounder and will soon be purchased by Ted Turner. Because of their stature in the world of animation, it wasn’t a surprise to see Nintendo go with DiC. Well, it’s not when you ignore that there are plenty of far more talented animation studios in Japan that Nintendo could have turned to, but their cartoon was clearly being targeted towards Americans so that likely explains the choice.
For DiC’s first stab at a Nintendo cartoon it turned to the Super Mario Bros. It handed things over to Inspector Gadget creator, Andy Heyward, and trusted him to bring Nintendo’s mascot to the world of cartoons. That was hardly a surprise, but what was a bit surprising was the decision to include a live-action component in the show. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! would begin with a segment featuring actors playing the brothers Mario and Luigi. They would have their own plot to untangle that would be setup in the opening act before the show would transition to the cartoon segment. The cartoon featured Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and her attendant Toad as they traveled through the vast Mushroom Kingdom always crossing paths with the evil King Koopa. When the cartoon concluded, the show would go back to the live-action portion where it’s story would progress and then resolve in the final act.
Why did DiC feel the show needed this live-action component? Well, it probably didn’t, rather DiC just saw an opportunity to knock the costs down. Who knows what Nintendo charged for the license, but my guess is the live-action was a lot cheaper to produce than animation. The actual cartoon in each episode is only 12 minutes or so in length. And the live-action part is just shot on a soundstage. There’s no on-location filming, wardrobe is pretty consistent, and they could probably bang out a few of these things in a day. Plus, it also allowed for the show to have some guest stars when the opportunity presented itself.
To add another wrinkle to the program, is that the show was actually 3 shows in one. It was a direct-to-syndication program that aired on weekday afternoons in most markets. Monday through Thursday featured a Mario cartoon and on Friday the Mario cartoon was swapped out for a Zelda one. During the lead-up to Friday, a sneak peek of the Zelda cartoon would be featured too so that when Friday came it almost felt like a re-run. It was an odd setup, but Mario and Zelda were like a packaged deal during this era, if cereal could be believed.
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! lasted just the one season before it was replaced with a show based on Super Mario Bros. 3. The show produced 52 Mario cartoons and 13 Zelda ones. It also produced a pair of Christmas segments. One of which is the subject of today’s post, “Koopa Klaus,” in which King Koopa tries to ruin Christmas. The other Christmas segment was the live-action “Santa Claus is Coming to Flatbush.” Why the two weren’t paired up I have no idea. It makes no sense, especially since this one aired before Halloween in 1989 and the other on the more appropriate date of November 29. Instead, this one was paired up with “Little Marios” which is actually one of the more memorable segments for me since it features a ridiculous flashback in which the same actors portray kid versions of themselves. At any rate, it has nothing to do with Christmas so I’m just going to ignore it.
Every episode opens with the very catchy theme song, “The Plumber’s Rap.” There are actually two versions of the rap, the one at the beginning of the show and then a different, much shorter one, that introduced the cartoon itself. Let’s just get it out of the way right now: this show sucks. However, I unironically love “The Plumber’s Rap.” It is perfect for what it is. When the opening credits are done, the episode begins with the first segment in the “Little Marios” plot. Now, I already said I’m going to ignore it, but while we’re here, I’ll just make some observations. For one, Mario is played by former professional wrestler Lou Albano and Luigi by Danny Wells. Both men are, unfortunately, no longer with us. They mostly look the part, I suppose. They’re definitely a little older than how I would have pictured the Mario brothers, but they have the colored overalls, blue undershirt, and big moustache. Albano even shaved his signature beard for the role, which was quite a commitment for him. Their home, which doubles as their place of business, makes no attempt to disguise itself as something other than a set. It’s very open. For some reason, the telephone is always shown in the middle of an actual pizza and it’s covered in cheese and pepperoni. The Mario brothers basically speak in Italian stereotypes and seem to consume nothing but pizza and spaghetti. The show makes very liberal use of a laugh track which makes it feel even more dated than it is.
When we get to the cartoon, we get the other opening credits with the modified rap. The lyrics are different and tell the viewer how the Mario brothers came to be in the Mushroom Kingdom (they found the secret warp zone while working on the drain). When the cartoon itself finally begins, we’re dropped into a factory where Koopa Troopas are dumping toys into a machine to grind them up into junk. King Koopa (Harvey Atkin, easily the best part of this show) is decked out in a Santa suit and is delighted to see the toys being smashed. He hates Christmas and he’s made it his mission to ruin the holiday for everyone. The three-headed serpent, Triclyde, approaches and he’s wearing a reindeer outfit. Koopa addresses him as Randolph the red-nosed triclyde. Apparently, Koopa’s sleigh is ready for him and he announces he’s off to Santa’s workshop to bomb it. He takes off with a sleigh full of bob-ombs being pulled by a pair of albatross with bicycle handles for reindeer antlers, a superior solution than what the Grinch settled for.
Mario and the gang have just popped up out of the ground like fucking Bugs Bunny for some reason in a very cold environment. Mario is dressed for some place much warmer and we find out that Toad (John Stocker) gave him some bad directions which has taken the four to The North Pole instead of Hawaii-Land. It would seem Toad may have done this on purpose for when Princess Toadstool (Jeannie Elias) realizes where they are Toad eagerly suggests they pay Santa a visit. Mario (voiced by Albano, Wells voices Luigi to keep things consistent with the live-action portion) then adds an entry in his “Plumber’s Log” as the gang starts walking towards the work shop. This is an obvious homage to Star Trek, though we never see a physical log book for Mario so maybe he just does this in his head to feel important.
Toad is rather excited about the whole thing with a major focus of his holiday love being the presents. Oh Toad, will you ever learn the true meaning of Christmas? He hopes Santa will give him his present now, which reminds the Princess that she has a gift for the little shroom and pulls it out. It’s a snowboard, and Toad is more than pleased with this development. He zooms around on the thing without so much as a “Thank you,” but the Princess seems to be enjoying this new development that has left her loyal attendant in a more infantile state.
The sound of sleigh bells get the attention of the Princess, but when she looks to the sky it isn’t Santa she spies, but Koopa Klaus! He drops some bombs which explode on impact and appear to be a direct hit on Toad. He’s not blown into bits though, he just goes soaring through the air and lands in a pile of snow. His snowboard follows and lands with one end in the ground forming a crude tombstone. When Toad emerges from the snow, he shrieks about his precious present and gives it a hug. The others then surround him and the Princess is rather pissed he doesn’t seem to care about their well-being. When confronted by this, Toad can’t even muster much of a defense aside from “well, it is Christmas” before finally asking the Princess if she’s ok.
Luigi then rightly forgets about the dumb, little, fungus and wonders what Koopa is up to. Mario realizes that Koopa was flying towards Santa’s work shop which sets Toad off once again. As expected, he’s worried about the toys and the others have to glare at him to get him to add “…and Santa” to the list of things he’s worried about. No one is concerned for the elves.
The gang then comes across Santa’s work shop only to find it encased in ice. I guess somehow Koopa’s bombs can freeze stuff as well as blow up? I don’t know. They’re all pretty shocked at what they see, but worse, there’s no sign of Santa! They then spy Koopa Klaus (and I find it funny they keep calling him Koopa Klaus) flying away with Santa hogtied on the back of his sleigh. Toad starts crying about never getting another present while Koopa (rightfully) laughs his ass off.
The Marios give chase as Koopa is heading…to the frozen work shop? I don’t understand his strategy. Mario is also so committed to saving Santa that he’s still in his vacation attire. Anyway, they happen upon a playground and Mario declares it’s a playground for the elves. Usually elves are little old men and women, but okay. Mario especially eyes a teeter-totter, only it’s not what I would call a teeter-totter, but a seesaw. Maybe it’s a regional thing? He tells Luigi to get a block of ice, only it’s too heavy for Luigi to toss over to Mario so he has to hobble it over. Mario then places it on the seesaw and instructs Luigi to jump off of his shoulders and onto the other end. Luigi does as he’s told and the block gets launched through the air and strikes Koopa’s sleigh. He and Santa fall, but Koopa uses his empty bomb sack as a parachute to slow their descent. I guess Mario was counting on Koopa doing that otherwise Santa would have just plunged to his death.
When they hit the ground, Koopa keeps a firm grasp on Santa and uses his sack like a wind sail and lets the breeze pull he and Santa across the snow. Mario and Luigi respond with…snowballs. Koopa, who has a big, spiny, shell on his back could probably just weather the storm here, but he actually stops. He catches some snowballs in his sack, then throws it back at the Marios. Mario gets knocked over, while Luigi ends up covered in snow resembling a snow Luigi.
Koopa Klaus carries Santa across the tundra, and it’s at this point I am just now realizing they aren’t leaving footprints in the snow – cheap animation budget! Mario and the others are right behind them, so Koopa does the reasonable thing of using Santa as a taboggan. As Mario and the others watch Koopa race away on his Santa-sleigh, Luigi worries aloud about the potential for thin ice ahead. Luigi, you’re at the North Pole. I’m pretty sure that ice is plenty thick. Toad then says something smart and points out if the ice can hold Santa and Koopa then it must be pretty thick. It must have been standards and practices that demanded they acknowledge the possibility of dangerous ice ahead or something.
The gang slides down on their rumps and crash land on the ice. Koopa then summons his Koopa Flurries, the little ice skating guys from the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2. They enter to the boss theme from the same game and spin-up some ice blocks to toss at the Marios. Their aim sucks, and Mario declares they must fight fire with fire! No, he’s not whipping out a fire flower, but tossing the ice block back at the flurries. Luigi makes the obvious observation that they’re actually fighting ice with ice, while he and Toad help Mario give it a push. All three wind up on top of the block as it whizzes towards the flurries who just…stand there. In tight formation, so we can get a bowling pin joke. No wonder why Koopa always loses.
Lamenting the defeat of his flurries, Koopa races into a cave still dragging Santa behind him (Koopa must be absurdly strong considering how easily he yanks this obese man all around the frozen north). The good guys arrive at the mouth of the cave, but hesitate once there. Luigi seems to be afraid of the dark, but the Princess declares the whole world will be a dark place without Christmas! Toad chimes in with a reminder they need to save the presents or some shit, but really this thing is sending mixed messages at this point. It would seem, per the Princess, that there’s no Christmas without Santa. Since Santa is just a jolly fat guy who brings presents, it would also seem that the implication is there will be no Christmas without presents! Hah! Check-mate, Princess!
They go after Santa and slide through the cave, though not smoothly. They end up essentially just going through a tunnel and emerge back out on the tundra. Koopa Klaus is above them though with Santa and he’s ready to dump the fat man over a cliff. He also slips into an Edward G. Robinson impression for some reason, as he spells it out. He ends his evil monologue with his catchphrase of the episode, “Bah Hum-koop,” which he shouts over and over until the predictable occurs: he starts an avalanche.
The horribly animated avalanche falls on Koopa and Santa. In order to save Santa, Mario relies on that tool he’s most famous for, a plumber’s snake! Yeah, not a power star or flower or even a Koopa shell, but a plumber’s snake. He uses it like a whip to retrieve Santa, while leaving Koopa Klaus. When he asks what he’s supposed to do, Mario just makes a diving gesture. Koopa refuses, but has no choice in the end, so he jumps into…the ice? The background looks like more frozen tundra, but the animators layer a splash effect on it and Koopa behaves like he’s in water, but it looks ridiculous. Koopa hauls himself out of the water and onto some ice to feel sorry for himself. He asks “What else could go wrong?” and is greeted by an angry polar bear. We now leave Koopa to die.
Back at Santa’s work shop, the big guy is pretty happy about being rescued, but things look dire. Santa (Stocker) doesn’t see how he could possibly unfreeze the work shop in time for Christmas. Surprisingly, no one seems concerned about the elves or reindeer encased in ice. They should be pretty dead at this point. Toad doesn’t give a shit though since he has his snowboard. He races around like a show-off, while Santa cries.
Toad the infinite moron, then asks “What’s wrong?” when Santa walks off to be sad. The Princess has to dumb it down for him, and then Toad gets to flip a switch in his stupid little brain. He hands over his snowboard to Santa and tells him to give it to someone for Christmas. Santa, in an extreme overreaction, embraces Toad and tells him he’s never seen anything quite like the gesture Toad just made. His exact words are, “In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone express the true spirit of Christmas quite like you did.” What an astoundingly stupid thing to have Santa say. The little mushroom donated a snowboard, not a kidney!
Santa starts crying, and then everything melts because of Christmas. The Princess and Santa spell it out for the kids at home, in case they couldn’t figure it out, that the spirit of Christmas has warmed Santa’s heart to the point where the ice is thawing. It’s dumb, and an easy out. The elves and reindeer even seem fine, and Santa is able to prep his sleigh for Christmas Eve.
Santa is ready to depart, and once again gives all of the credit to Toad for saving Christmas. Never mind that the little brat did almost nothing to actually rescue him from Koopa Klaus. That was pretty much all Mario. He then declares he has a special present for the lot of them and invites them to ride with him tonight to deliver presents. Toad gets to sit beside Santa, while the other three get stuck in the back. Santa is running lean too since he only has four reindeer and apparently two elves. They take to the sky and Santa calls out “Mario Christmas to all and to all a good night!” and does a moon fly-by to close it out.
That’s how the Mario brothers saved Christmas. This is a profoundly stupid and cheap Christmas cartoon. I hate the Toad character as he’s annoying even when he isn’t acting like a child and he’s also kind of dumb looking, if I’m being honest. His arc is plainly obvious from the get-go and his selfishness at the beginning is just so over-the-top. Santa should just boot him out of the sleigh when they’re over the ocean.
The rest of the characters are fine, though none are particularly entertaining. Mario, who sounds like he was recorded over the phone or something, is the leader with all of the right ideas. Luigi is just there to be a sidekick and question Mario while the Princess is mostly along for the ride. She explains things, I guess, but in a cartoon lacking subtlety explanation is rarely needed. We don’t get any fun Mario power-ups in this one, and there’s a real lack of bad guys outside of Koopa Klaus. I did enjoy the Triclyde and birds with handlebar antlers, at least.
King Koopa, or Koopa Klaus, is the only redeeming part of the show. He’s over-the-top as well, but it works. He’s just an entertaining villain, even if he’s mostly inept, and the voice of the late Harvey Atkin is just so unique in this role. He and Stocker were pretty much the only voice actors that DiC would hang onto for the other Mario cartoons, as everyone else would eventually be replaced.
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! is a relic of its era, a licensed cartoon designed to simply boost the profile of the main characters leading to sales of other merchandise. It’s not a good show, and this isn’t a good Christmas special. It is a widely available one though as Netflix currently has the streaming rights. It’s also available, cheaply, on DVD if you for some reason need to own this thing physically. You could also just stream it for free too, as it’s available on YouTube without the need for payment. Like I said, it’s not any good, but sometimes you just have to DO THE MARIO!