Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: The Super Mario Bros. Rescue Milli Vanilli

Perhaps because I can’t take off the nostalgia goggles anymore than I can take off my skin or because I actually have terrible taste, most of the time I find something to like in my old childhood favorites.  I grew up exactly at the time when Ronald Reagan (in)famously let 20-minute toy commercials pass as children’s entertainment, so this is saying quite a lot.  But I would argue that even G.I. Joe and Transformers had at least a little aesthetic value.  G.I. Joe occasionally showed some pretty strong camp sensibilities (who can forget the episode where Cobra Commander launches his own fundraising telethon, or where the Joes bust into the Cobra troops’ recreational facilities where they have ping-pong tables and saunas?) and Transformers…come on, it’s a show about giant robots who turn into cars and fighter jets!  That’s objectively, unquestionably awesome!

Anyway, even then I have to admit that, looking back, there was an awful lot of crap, and a heap of it came courtesy of the aptly named DiC Entertainment.

To be fair, DiC was behind a few series that are still warmly remembered like Ulysses 31, Inspector Gadget, and The Real Ghostbusters.  Fairly or not, though, today they are most remembered for being the Hanna-Barbera or the Filmation of the ’90s, flooding the decade’s market with franchise cash-ins that had such poor production values even the kiddies noticed.   Nintendo, which was on its own spree of cross-market capitalistic whoring in the early-mid ’90s, formed an unholy alliance with DiC, leading to shows that I’m sure both companies would have liked to forget.  I feel the same way.  Add to all this one of the most widely publicized music industry scandals of the same era, and you’ve got a perfect piece of trash culture glory.

I use the word “glory” subjectively, of course. Captain N: The Game Master was so blatant a series of commercials for Nintendo that it made Transformers look like avant-garde art, and scientists have proven that it was objectively terrible (I have the charts and spreadsheets to prove it). Yet (somehow) Captain N does today have its nostalgic fans. As far as I know, its sister series, the awkwardly named The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, doesn’t even have that much, even in the days when the Internet makes it possible for pretty much anything to have some kind of cult following. Probably the problems with The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 all began with the fact that it wasn’t even really a show in its own right. It was just another season of The Super Mario Bros. Show, but with characters and settings from Super Mario Bros. 3 being slavishly (yet imperfectly) followed and without the cheesy live action segments, which are now pretty much the only part of the show people remember (well, that and “Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, princess!”)

It’s only in hindsight that Milli Vanilli appearing in a sub-sub-quality Saturday morning marketing ploy is such a perfect combination (and, before I go any further, I should clarify that, yes, they actually gave their voices to this thing). At the time of the show’s airdate, sometime in October 1990, Milli Vanilli were still extremely popular, despite the fact that there was already some public evidence that they were lip syncing. However,  just after this episode aired, the backlash was launched, with Milli Vanilli having their Grammy revoked, class action lawsuits demanding reimbursements for people who bought their last album, and their album going out of print overnight. Truly, a cameo on a crappy cartoon goeth before the fall.

Remember, even though this is a cartoon, real people wore things like this circa 1990!

Anyway, as for the episode itself, my problems start with the very title: “Kootie Pie Rocks.” First off, Milli Vanilli does not rock. They didn’t rock even before they became a decade-defining joke. The second is that the awful name refers to one of the Koopalings, who in both this series and the original game are the seven kids of Bowser. Like Bowser himself, who in this series and in the Super Mario Bros. Super Show was inexplicably always called “King Koopa” instead, the Koopalings had their names changed – for the worse. In the English translation of the game, they’re all named for music icons: Wendy (Wendy O. Williams), Iggy (Iggy Pop), Ludwig (I don’t really have to spell this one out for you, do I?), etc. The writers of the series instead gave them names that scream “I had some ideas pitched to me by my six-year old niece” like Cheatsy, Bully, Kooky, and Kootie Pie. And, yes, Kootie Pie really is the name someone decided to give to the token female Koopaling. This really gets at one more problem I have with not just this episode, but the entire show: the humor. It’s not so much that there’s an absence of humor, but that instead it reveals the exact mirror opposite of humor. To put it another way, you could argue that this show isn’t so much based on the “Super Mario Bros.” franchise as it is on some joke book originally written on papyrus. I’ll be sure to use italics and boldface to illustrate the humor in this episode, just to insure that you “get it.” See, she’s a girl, so her name is Kootie Pie. Get it?

If you can get past the title, then you’ll witness Mario, Luigi, and Toad, who sounds like Gilbert Godfrey’s more annoying eunuch cousin, dressing up in tuxedos for a “real world” concert that Princess Toadstool (better known nowadays as Peach) wants to attend. Even as a kid, the fact that Toad, Princess Toadstool, and other denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom referred to Earth as the “real world” bothered me, and now as an adult it’s outright disturbing. Doesn’t having this knowledge that Mario and Luigi’s home is the “real world,” and therefore her entire world and all the beings in it are in some fundamental way “unreal,” cause Princess Toadstool a hellish existential crisis? Isn’t she filled with an unquenchable rage by the very presence of Mario and Luigi, who can not only claim an existence more valid than her own but also incessantly remind her of the fact by referring to this “real world”? These are important questions raised by your own narrative, writers of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3; don’t brush them under a rug!

Instead of having a crisis about her existence that would surpass anything imagined by any philosopher in history, Princess Toadstill appears dressed in ripped jeans and a Milli Vanilli sweater. Because she’s a princess, Mario and Luigi thought they were going to some fancy event! Surely this is the freshest comedy this side of the TGIF lineup.

Well, the writing may be lacking, but at least the crowd scenes the concert give the animators an opportunity to shine. Just look at the detail…especially the eyes…the dead, soulless eyes.

As any child of the early ’90s might guess, the episode delivers up Milli Vanilli’s signature hit “Girl You Know It’s True” during the concert. However, depending on whether or not the copy of the episode is from the original broadcast or syndication, you might instead hear a generic rock song without any lyrics and which sounds a lot like Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Copyright can be a funny thing.

Meanwhile Kootie Pie, jealous that Princess Toadstool gets to experience the epoch-defining music of Milli Vanilli first-hand, has harassed her father to the point that he agrees to kidnap Milli Vanilli. Of course, since she’s a teenager and a girl, she’s shallow, selfish, and materialistic! Apparently in this universe crossing dimensions is like riding a subway, because the concert is still in full swing when King Koopa appears in his airship and kidnaps Milli Vanilli with a tractor beam (now there’s a sentence for the ages). When Milli Vanilli prove less than willing to provide Kootie Pie with a private concert (presumably because the necessary records weren’t prepared), she uses her magic wand to turn them into accountants, because accountants are lame and Milli Vanilli are rad, right? Actually, this was something else that bothered me even when I was a kid. In the game, the Koopalings do have the same wands, but they stole them from the kings of the Mushroom Kingdom and once the Koopalings are defeated all the wands are given back. So does this mean the Koopalings stole the wands back, or is the series some kind of prequel or interquel to the game, or does the series take place in an alternate continuity altogether? It’s sloppy storytelling leaving unanswered questions like these that turn innocent young children like me into nitpicking nerds.

Regardless, Mario, Luigi, the Princess, and Toad are able to quickly and effortlessly get to King Koopa’s castle. Apparently they didn’t even have to get through the godforsaken tank stage. Once at the castle, they disguise themselves as a band and, since Kootie Pie like so many other cartoon characters suffers from the eye disorder commonly known as Elmer Fudd Disease, she is tricked into turning Milli Vanilli back to normal and giving them the opportunity to escape. Kootie Pie wants to chase them, but King Koopa stops her because, get this, he thinks their music sucks. I know it’s supposed to be another ancient gag about how, to quote a wise sage of my generation, parents just don’t understand, but I have to side with Bowser on this one. Because apparently most of the events in this episode took place in the space of five minutes, the concert resumes where it left off with Milli Vanilli thanking the two stereotypically Italian plumbers, the humanoid fungus with the soul-killing voice, and the princess of a world that somehow simultaneously exists yet doesn’t exist. The end.

So, yes, it’s about as horrible as you’d think an early ’90s DiC cartoon based on a Nintendo product guest-starring a German pop duo who had their allotted five minutes of fame cut short by a lip syncing scandal would be, and then some. I have to admit, though, given that the animation is so horrible the characters’ mouth movements don’t always match up with the dialogue, there is at least something ironic to the point of brilliance about it.