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Dec. 23 – The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! – “Koopa Klaus”

Original air date October 23, 1989

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.

Danny Wells loves being Luigi.

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.

Monday through Thursday 1989, little dudes like me were “treated” to a Super Mario Bros. cartoon as part of the Super Show.

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.

This is not a show with a large budget.

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.

Better than a toilet…

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.

Behold! Koopa Klaus!

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 gets to wear this stupid outfit the whole episode.

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.

FYI: if you didn’t already hate Toad, you’re about to.

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.

Toad grave. Sadly, it’s short-lived.

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.

This shot of everyone staring angrily at Toad is going to be repeated a lot in this one.

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 icy work shop, and our first animation gaffe of the episode as Mario is depicted in his red overalls.

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.

That son-of-a-bitch kidnapped Santa Claus!

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.

It’s Snoweegi!

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.

And I bet you thought Bender did it first.

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.

This little guy doesn’t have much of a threatening aura to speak of.

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.

Looks like certain death awaits you if you go in the cave.

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!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s only the bad guy who has festive, holiday, attire.

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.

Is the background ice or water? Eh, it’s just a kid’s show.

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.

Koopa’s new friend.

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.

That is one punchable face.

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!

Toad using Santa’s beard to dry his tears feels way too clever for this show.

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.

Looks like they saved Christmas after all.

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.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting the show to have an eight reindeer budget so I’m not even mad about it.

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!

Swing your arms…

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)

It seems to me that video game cartoons are much less popular today than they were when I was young.  Then again, I don’t have any kids so I’m not often watching children’s programming so I could be mistaken.  I’m sure Pokemon is still kicking around some network and Sonic may be running in syndication, but that’s all I can come up with off the top of my head.  When I was young there were several video game adaptations for the small screen.  Just going off the top of my head I can come up with Dragon Lair, Super Mario, Zelda, Captain N (not a strict adaptation of a game, but comprised almost entirely of characters from popular games), Sonic, Battletoads, Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat.  I’m almost positive I’m forgetting some but that’s still a pretty solid sample for comparison.  Maybe it’s because so many popular games these days seem to be of the M and T rated variety that we don’t see many cartoon adaptations.  Or maybe it’s because companies like Nintendo are still shell-shocked from less than stellar cartoons based on their properties.  If that is the case, then we can lay a lot of the blame on The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3.

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 was, naturally, based on the video game Super Mario Bros. 3.  It was also the sequel of sorts to the more popular Super Maro Bros. Super Show which featured Mario cartoons that took place in a world based off of Super Mario Bros. 2 (the American version).  That show is mostly remembered for the live-action Mario and Luigi and the songs the welcomed viewers and saw them off (Do the Mario!).  The Super Mario Bros. 3 adaptation contained no live actors and no such songs.  The opening is simply a narrator talking over an animated sequence that sets up the series.  There’s no continuity from one episode to the next and each one runs a little over 10 minutes with 26 total episodes.  The retail release is three discs worth of content and I would be surprised if any of the discs is filled to near capacity.  Mario and Luigi had their voice actors recast to Walker Boone and Tony Rosato but the rest of the cast remains intact.  The animation style is also slightly different, most notably Mario is a little trimmer and the Koopa Troopa design from the previous show was scrapped.

The Koopa Kids are probably the best thing going in this show.

The Koopa Kids are probably the best thing going in this show.

The biggest changes from the previous show to this one occurred with the villains and the location.  Location wise, this is a more faithful depiction of the Mushroom Kingdom from the game complete with numerous warp pipes and floating blocks.  For the villains, King Koopa is still the antagonist but now he’s accompanied by his seven Koopa Kids.  The Koopalings resemble their video game counterparts in design but all have different names.  Allegedly, this was due to the series being developed before Nintendo had provided the names.  The characters, for the most part, have pretty stupid and unimaginative names.  Morton Koopa Jr. is now just called Big Mouth, because he has a (you guessed it) big mouth.  There’s a Bully Koopa, Cheatsy, and Wendy is now Kootie Pie.  It’s not very important what their names are but I’ll give credit to the writers for mostly giving each of the seven a distinct personality (with the exception of the twins Hip and Hop, who are basically the same).  The ones that end up standing out include Cheatsy, who’s cunning seems to surpass his father’s as he is often able to manipulate him (usually with flattery).  Cookie is the evil genius of the kids and is definitely the most insane.  And Kootie Pie, being Koopa’s only daughter, is not surprisingly a spoiled brat and her father is a slave to her whims.

Apparently the eyes are fully-functioning on the frog suit.  Does that mean Mario can see out of them?  I must know!

Apparently the eyes are fully-functioning on the frog suit. Does that mean Mario can see out of them? I must know!

The Koopa Kids are perhaps the only bright spot of this program.  Well, that and the power-ups.  Super Mario Bros. 3 is famous for its numerous power-ups and they’re all represented here, for the most part.  For some reason I get a giddy thrill from seeing them used in the show from the common raccoon tail to the absurd frog suit.  Even Koopa gets in on the action in the series finale which is certainly noteworthy.  The rest of the show though is comprised of tired writing and simple plots.  Not much has changed from the previous show and the majority of the episodes follow the same formula of the Mario Bros. having to foil one of Koopa’s attempts at taking over the Mushroom Kingdom.  There’s usually a chase sequence or montage set to a parody of a licensed song which had to be removed from the DVD release.  There is one exception in the episode “Recycled Koopa” which contains a song called “Trash City USA” (2:05 mark in video link).  It sounds suspiciously like the Glenn Danzig song “Spook City USA” and I wonder if it was intended by someone as a parody of that.  Since the song is so obscure it wouldn’t surprise me if it snuck past the legal team (at the time the episode was produced, the song only existed as a B side to the single “Who Killed Marlyn?” which was not exactly a wide release).  There’s also the requisite episode where things get turned around and Mario and Luigi have to be saved by the Princess and Toad.  There’s also a celebrity appearance by Milli Vanilli in one episode, “Kootie Pie Rocks.”  This may be the most hilarious episode in hindsight.

Koopa is backed, armed with an assortment of magic wands this time around.

Koopa is backed, armed with an assortment of magic wands this time around.

This series also establishes the existence of the home world of the Mario brothers as The Real World.  This means several episodes take place on earth and in places like New York and Venice.  There’s even one episode where each koopaling takes over a continent.  This labeling of this world as The Real World bugs the crap out of me.  This show isn’t like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with characters often breaking the fourth wall, instead that’s how the characters view this supposed real world.  What does that make the Mushroom Kingdom then?  The fake world?  I’m surprised the princess would stand for that!

Because of the short run-time, plots are often resolved quickly and haphazardly.  It’s clear the writers had little respect for children as the show is fairly thoughtless.  The animation isn’t anything to get excited over either.  For the most part, it’s fairly typical of its era but there are other shortcuts that bother me.  Most notably, whenever a character morphs into another form there’s no transition animation, it just happens, which is utter laziness.  Unfortunately, the transfers by Shout! Factory for the DVD release are atrocious.  Some episodes are okay while others drop out and look worse than what can be found on the internet.  Supposedly the master tapes for the series no longer exist, so I don’t know what the source was for the DVD, but clearly it sucked and no attempt was made for the episodes that are really bad.  The last two episodes on the set are especially bad and should have never been released in such a state.

I bought this set when I found it on sale and did so only for nostalgic purposes.  I liked the show enough when I was a kid but my memory of it wasn’t strong.  It didn’t last long as it was quickly replaced by a Super Mario World themed cartoon.  Even though the set was relatively cheap, it still wasn’t worth the purchase.  Don’t make the same mistake I did, just let this one pass, as your memories of the show are likely much better than the actual product.


The Legend of Zelda (The Animated Series)

Title screen from the Zelda cartoon (1989).

Title screen from the Zelda cartoon (1989).

Back in the 1980’s you could not get away from Nintendo.  The Nintendo Entertainment System was flying off store shelves and Super Mario was turned into a household name.  It only made sense that Mario and other Nintendo properties would have a lot of marketing power.  There were toys, pencils, lunch boxes, cereal, soda and so on.  It was Mario Mania!  Not surprisingly, Nintendo licensed the stomper of koopas for television and it wasn’t long before kids were sitting down in front of the tube to watch the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.  Hosted by former WWF personality Captain Lou Albano, as Mario, and Danny Wells (Luigi), the Super Mario Bros. Super Show began with two in a live-action setting before leading into a cartoon.  The live-action segments are probably the best remembered parts of the show because they’re quite absurd by any standard, especially for people who didn’t live through it.  The theme song was also pretty memorable, “The Plumber’s Rap,” and the ending theme “Do the Mario!” has enjoyed a second life on youtube.

The show only ran from September 1989 to December of the same year but since it aired every weekday afternoon it spawned 65 episodes worth of content.  It would be replaced with new Mario cartoons that didn’t feature the live-action segments and were based on later games in the Super Mario Bros. series.  They would be featured with another Nintendo cartoon, Captain N:  The Game Master, as part of the Nintendo Power Hour on Saturday mornings.  Before that though, Mario was on five times a week in live-action form, and four times in cartoon form.  The cartoon was mostly based on the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 but with some differences.  The creators wisely left out the whole vegetable tossing angle in favor of fire flowers and the antagonist of the series was King Bowser Koopa instead of Wart.  It was basically an adventure type of show where Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess Toadstool would travel to different parts of the Mushroom Kingdom while foiling the schemes of Koopa.  There would often be a musical number and many episodes were parodies of popular movies and stories.  It was a very gimmicky show, like a lot of cartoons from that era, and it’s one that really hasn’t aged that well.

Remember these guys?

Remember these guys?

Now the show aired five days a week, but the Super Mario Bros. cartoon only aired four days a week.  That’s because every Friday Mario took a day off and made room for another hero:  Link.  Link, of course, is the hero of the Legend of Zelda games who was also pretty popular at that time.  The Zelda cartoon was different in tone from the Mario one.  Yes, it was still geared towards kids but it shunned a lot of the tired chase sequences and movie parodies that were commonplace in the Mario cartoon.  The show revolves around Link, the hero of Hyrule, as he defends the castle and its coveted Triforce of Wisdom from the forces of the evil sorcerer Ganon.  The show is based off of the first Zelda game with some references made to its sequel as well.  Link is pretty clearly modeled after the character illustrations from those booklets and wields the same dinky little sword he has in Zelda II.  Ganon, on the other hand, looks to be more of a concept.  In both games, he’s pictured as a big green/blue pig who does have some magical powers.  In the show, he has more of a wizardly look with an ugly pig-like face.  He’s actually more menacing looking this way, but he’s not going to get in there and mix things up with Link.  He’d rather stand back and let his minions do the fighting, who are not surprisingly incompetent.  He’s in possession of the Triforce of Power (the show makes no mention of the Triforce of Courage) and has an endless supply of Moblins and Stalfos.

Other characters include a fairy named Spryte, who is likely modeled after the generic fairies from the Zelda games.  She is kind of the Tinker Bell to Link’s Pan in that she likes Link, but he only has eyes for the princess Zelda.  Zelda appears in each episode and is portrayed in a way that probably surprised viewers at the time.  Zelda shuns the traditional princess attire and instead sports trousers and tunic much like Link.  She’s not the typical damsel in distress and seems pretty capable of taking care of herself.  She does have a snotty side, and because she’s the target of many of Ganon’s schemes, she does often require saving from her “hero.”

Zelda is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Zelda is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

The portrayal of Link in this series is what many fans dislike about the show most.  Link, in the games, really had no personality.  Even in the modern games, he doesn’t have much of a personality so I don’t know what fans were expecting from the character, it just wasn’t this.  Link is a brash, cocky, and kind of lazy character.  He views his title of “hero” as a job and one that just gets in the way of his pursuit of Zelda.  Not an episode goes by where Link doesn’t beg the princess for a kiss, and because viewers need a reason to tune in, he never gets one.  He’s also been given a catch phrase, “Excuuuuuse me, princess!”  Some day I would like to watch the entire series and count how many times Link says that line (according to Wikipedia, it was 29 times).  The show only produced 13 15-minute Zelda cartoons, but I’m willing to bet that Link easily averaged more than two occurrences of that catch phrase an episode.  Sometimes the line makes sense, and sometimes it’s just shoe-horned into the script.  It even occurs during the opening credits.  Link may have said that stupid line more often than Michelangelo said “Cowabunga” on the TMNT cartoon, on a per episode basis.

Ganon and the two things he covets most.

Ganon and the two things he covets most.

Anyways, that aside, the show is of a better quality than the Mario cartoons, though that isn’t saying much.  In general, each episode features Ganon executing a new plan to capture the Triforce.  Some of these are more clever and entertaining than others.  There’s one where Ganon goes Robin Hood and to sneak into a magic contest, there’s another where a Zelda clone infiltrates Hyrule, and there’s even a frog prince story-line where Link finds himself the victim of a magic spell (and if you’re wondering, no, Zelda doesn’t break the curse with a kiss).  That said, there isn’t anything in the writing to this show that’s going to impress.  It’s pretty standard fare for the period.  One thing I can appreciate though is the attempt of the writers to explain a few loose ends from the video game.  Namely, how can Link carry so much crap around with him?  Apparently, he has a magic pouch that causes items to shrink down to micro size to fit in.  Throughout the series he and Zelda will often pull out items from the games like the boomerang, bow, and bombs.  Other enemies make appearances too like the octoroks and just about every boss character from the original game.  If you’re watching it to spot items from the game, you’ll have some fun with the show.

Animation wise, the show is mostly crap.  It’s not awful to look at but this is a DiC produced show and DiC liked to put out lots of licensed cartoons on the cheap.  They would get a large amount of cartoons made in a short amount of time so that the shows could go direct to syndication and exist for a few years and bounce around several channels.  I think, on average, the animation here is better than what’s in the Mario cartoons but that’s not saying a whole lot.  The audio is okay though and the Zelda theme is used throughout, which doesn’t hurt it.  Link’s voice, when he’s not saying that regrettable line, is all right.  Ganon is voiced by Len Carlson who should be familiar to fans of 80’s and early 90’s cartoons as he got around.  He uses a shrill voice for Ganon that works for this portrayal of the character.  Zelda is voiced by Cynthia Preston and I always enjoyed her voice.  I don’t really know why but I was drawn to it as a kid.  Maybe because Link sexualized her and I wasn’t accustomed to seeing that in other kid shows of the time.

She's such a tease.

She’s such a tease.

The Legend of Zelda cartoon is not something that is remembered because it’s a wonderful companion piece to the video games, it’s remembered for nostalgic purposes only and is a kind of humorous reminder of how games were marketed back in the day.  A lot of fans prefer the Zelda themed episodes of Captain N to this show because Link was more of a hero type in that show than he is here.  That show really isn’t any better on the whole as it was just another marketing tool (and all of these old cartoons are basically shunned by Nintendo today) to move video games.  This isn’t a show that most adults can turn on and digest over an hour as it’s pretty damn bad.  It’s kind of funny to laugh at, and I can say I do enjoy it more than the Mario cartoons, but if I didn’t watch it as a kid there’s no way I’m making it thru more than one episode.  The complete series was released by Shout a few years ago and can probably be had on the cheap for those looking to experience it.  Those that have never seen it would probably be better off just watching some clips on the internet as opposed to spending real money on the series.


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