What do you mean, she’s in another castle?
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show aired from 1989 to 1991, clearly made to both cash in and promote Nintendo’s gigantic cash cow. Running five days a week, the series treated young viewers to the ongoing animated adventures of Mario, Luigi, Toadstool, and various other corporate spokestoons. But every Friday, the Italian plumbers took a back seat to a second cartoon, set in a fantasy kingdom and filled with all sorts of sword-swinging adventure—The Legend of Zelda.
The small kingdom of Hyrule is lush and bountiful, thanks to the leadership of the young-but-resourceful Princess Zelda, and to a magical artifact, the Triforce of Wisdom. Unfortunately, the evil wizard Ganon, who rules the nearby underworld, wants to Triforce to be his own, so he can use it to rule the world. To protect Hyrule, Zelda brings aboard the wandering hero, Link. A one-man Department of Homeland Security, Link’s job is to swing into action whenever Ganon or his many minions storm the castle. When not kicking butt or blasting away monsters with his magic sword, Link finds all sorts of trouble to get into, but all he really wants is a kiss from the princess.
At the time The Super Mario Bros. Super Show aired, I was a little too old for it. The Mario cartoon and its live action segments were too “kiddie” for my tastes. But Fridays were a different story. While all the other guys spent their Friday afternoons playing sports or preparing for dates that night, I ran straight home for 30 minutes worth of crazy fantasy adventure that was the Zelda cartoon. Somewhat frighteningly, it looks like someone at Shout! Factory has the same mindset, because they’ve taken just the Zelda episodes, collected all thirteen, and put them on this nice three-disc set. These days, fans often complain how there’s yet to be a decent video game adaptation coming out of Hollywood, but here’s one that, although not perfect, is pretty good.
This certainly is some high adventure stuff. We’ve got fire-breathing dragons, sword fighting, flying unicorns, magic spells, hand to hand combat, laser beams, evil twins, bombs, kidnappings, last-minute rescues, and enough explosions and mass destruction to make Roland Emmerich weep with envy. Actually, though, the fight scenes remind me more of Jackie Chan. Link doesn’t quite have Jackie’s lightning fast moves, but the fights show Jackie’s inventiveness in incorporating the props and setting into the action. The Zelda creators were never content to repeat themselves. Instead, it seems they’re always trying to one-up each other by seeing who can dream up the wildest kind of battle. Take, for example, the scene in which Link and Zelda are tied to each other back to back while fighting off monsters. It’s a ludicrous idea, but the creators make it work by giving the whole scene a lot of energy, all with some tongue-in-cheek humor.
As much fun as all this is, not everything about the series works. The running joke about Link wanting a kiss from Zelda isn’t half bad, but it gets repetitive after a while. But there are worse offenders when it comes to the show’s comedy. Remember Steve Martin’s old catchphrase, “Well, excuuuse me,” that everyone spouted back in the day? That was pretty dated by the time Legend of Zelda came along, and yet Link has to say it at least once per episode, or twice if you count when he says it during the opening titles—in one episode I counted four times.
Although I am a video game enthusiast, I have to admit that I only played Nintendo’s classic Zelda games a few times, so it’s beneficial that the cartoon does not rely heavily on viewers’ knowledge of the game. When various kinds of monsters show up, gamers will no doubt recognize them, but for the rest of us, it’s understood that these are Ganon’s henchmen and they’re bad news, and that’s all we need to know. The cartoon is good enough to stand on its own legs, so it’s unfortunate that its creators insisted on adding video game sound effects at key moments. When Link and Zelda show up to save the day, they’re accompanied by a rousing orchestral score; however, whenever Link zaps the bad guys with his magic sword, the sound is an unfortunately retro video game “bleep.” This was meant to remind kids to go out and buy the game, of course, but all it does is distract viewers from the action on screen.
When seen through today’s eyes, there are a number of nit-picks that overly-critical viewers could make. For example, why is Link the only one who can protect the Triforce? Is there no castle guard or anything? And why is the Triforce kept on a pedestal in Link’s bedroom instead of, say, a safe? Yeah, I know, none of this is meant to be taken too seriously, but still.
So, what are we to make of the first scene of the first episode that has Link spying on Zelda in her nightgown? Or the many scenes that have Link rousted out of bed, forcing him to go into action in just a shirt and his underpants? Yes, there seems to be some underlying sexual subtext hidden away in this series somewhere. Nothing graphic happens, obviously, but it seems that when Link asks Zelda for a kiss, he’s really asking for a lot more, if you get my drift.
As much I enjoy the series for its big action moments, for most people this is a real nostalgia item, and it doesn’t get any more nostalgic than the live action footage. Each episode was “hosted” by Mario and Luigi themselves, with pro wrestler Captain Lou Albano as Mario and Danny Wells (Magnolia) as Luigi. The set-up is basically the two of them hanging out in their basement apartment and/or office, as some crazy character inevitably shows up and tosses a few jokes around before and after each day’s cartoon. My apologies to everyone who has fond memories of these, but boy, is this stuff bad. The jokes are poorly written and delivered, and the video game sound effects are really overdone here. Every little twitch the two guys make is accompanied by a “beep,” a “blip,” or a “pa-koop.” On the plus side, though, these bits feature some moderately impressive guest stars, including Norman Fell (Three’s Company), Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch) voice actor Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain), Moon Unit Zappa (Student Exchange) and Elaine Kagan (Innocent Blood). Fans might be disappointed to learn that only five of the 13 episodes have the live action footage. Other extras in the disc include two interactive games and some character sketches available on DVD-ROM.
The picture quality shows numerous flecks and scratches at times, but never enough to overwhelm the visuals. The live action stuff fares worse, and is overly grainy and hazy. This could partially be due to the original footage’s low budget roots, though. Audio is much better. Although it is not as booming as some discs, it shows now apparent flaws.
As I said above, this series isn’t perfect, but it is a lot of fun.