Oh, the ‘90s. There were fuzzy phones, after school specials on TV, and Nintendo was making a strong presence in America. With the system’s rise in popularity came Hollywood’s hope to tap into a new genre. The Mario Bros movie left a lot to be desired by fans (wait, even the humans were dinosaurs?), but one of the biggest things was that the princess didn’t wait for Mario to rescue her (also her love interest was Luigi and her name was Daisy???).
I attribute this to the growing popularity of feminism and the confidence of women of the era that we can save ourselves. As the Time article, “How the ‘90s Tricked Women Into Thinking They’d Gained Gender Equality” points out, “The forward motion of the ‘90s seemed to build on the ‘80s, a decade of hallowed female pioneers in diverse fields” (Yarrow, 2018). We saw a lot of growth in female leads in movies and stories where females could be heroes.
A light telling of Mario Bros the 1993 movie (spoilers ahead), The Mario Brothers live in Manhattan and are barely making it. Luigi runs into a girl named Daisy, an archaeologist. She is having trouble with Scapelli, the Mario Brothers’ largest competitor, trying to shut down her dig. Mario is dating a woman named Daniella. There has been a rash of kidnappings going on involving women. After a double date, Daisy and Luigi come across some of Scapelli’s workers sabotaging the dig site. Mario and Luigi pitch in to help Daisy, but she gets kidnapped while they are working. Chasing her screams through the tunnels, they jump through a wall and land in a different dimension. Where a human Bowser rules, the former king is fungus, and his daughter has been missing for years. Daisy learns she is the missing princess and that only she can merge the two dimensions that were divided when the comet hit Earth. The Mario Brothers get arrested for attempting to rescue Daisy and go on a series of adventures eventually leading them to rescue the missing women from Manhattan and aid Daisy in her escape, defeat Bowser, and restore the King to his rightful place. The movie ends with a sad goodbye where Daisy says she needs to get to know her dad and her real people before sending Mario and Luigi back to Manhattan. After the credits, in one of the first stingers I’d ever seen, Daisy kicks down Mario and Luigi’s apartment door wearing post-apocalyptic gear and carrying a gun, saying, “Luigi, Mario! You gotta come with me; I need your help!”
While this last line left a lot of room for a sequel, the movie landing on several worst movie ever lists and getting terrible reviews (29% on Rotten Tomatoes), made people decide that a sequel wouldn’t happen. In fact, this movie remained the only live action movie to be adapted from a Nintendo game until Detective Pikachu came out in 2019!
Also, to be noted is that the character Lena, played by Fiona Shaw, is a strong woman in her own right. Lena plays Bowser’s confidant. She has a take charge attitude to solving her problems (like the princess featuring so highly in Bowser’s plans), and even tries to bring Bowser’s plans to fruition after he has so spectacularly failed.
Now, that final scene absolutely brings to mind a woman who has taken charge of her own life and is solving problems with the knowledge that she can’t do everything herself. The ‘90s brought us so much hope, and I won’t lie, left a lot to be disappointed with in our strides to gender equality. This movie left a lot to be disappointed with if you were a fan of the Mario Bros games. But, if we can agree on one thing, let’s agree that Mario Brothers tried to let the Princess save herself and should definitely be heralded with other movies that rose females into hero roles.