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Frank Beddor
Jared Hoffman
June 28, 2024

Mushrooms and Rabbit Holes: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Alice in Wonderland”

Ba da dun da dun dah dun! For those of you who can hear the melody in my head, you already know what this blog is about. For those of you who lack ESP skills, we’re talking about the Super Mario movies, yes movies as in two, and how they relate to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A bit of back story on why I’m so excited for this blog. I’m going to take you back to the year 2002. My family is packing for a flight to Canada. Little five-year-old me was probably passing time in my room by solving complex equations on string theory as part of my fellowship with Harvard. Well, that day, my mother came into my room with a surprise for me. The surprise was an original Gameboy and two game cartridges. One was a port of a Russian block stacking game but the other was Super Mario Land. The game was already thirteen years old but to little five-year-old me it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. With one flick of the switch, the little green and black screen came to life and I was transported to the Mushroom Kingdom. I could only get to the fourth level before I died but my dad told me tales of a seventh level with spiders that he only reached once. To reach such heights, I knew what I must do, I put down my scientific calculator and told Harvard, “To hell with your fellowship.” From now on the only string theory I was interested in was…I don’t know…I played a lot of video games and now I’m not as smart as I could have been. I still have that same game cart and every now and then I pick it up. The game is only about 45 minutes from start to finish but I still remember the feeling the first time I beat it.

Cover image from the 1989 Nintendo Game Boy game "Super Mario Land" featuring Mario and various images including Peach, a Sphinx, pyramids, and the Easter Island Heads.

Mario is an instantly recognizable character and there’s good reason for it. When the Nintendo Entertainment System was released, it came with the game Super Mario Bros. It’s synonymous with Nintendo. The games are simple and well-made. Go from left to right and don’t let the enemies touch you. With how popular these Mario games were, it seemed only natural that Hollywood would want to get in on some of the action. In 1993, they did, and people HATED it. But not all people. There was one person who when given a VHS of the Mario movie, sat down and ate it up. That person was me.

Look, I’m aware Super Mario Bros. is not “good” but I was Mario-obsessed and just wanted to see how they would create the Mushroom Kingdom in a movie. I was not expecting the Mushroom Kingdom to be a Blade Runner-esque dystopian society in an alternate universe where instead of primates evolving as the dominant species, it was dinosaurs that evolved into humans. That being said, I accepted it for what it was and locked myself in for the ride. The weird story and setting aside, the casting was sick. The movie starred Bob Hoskins as the titular Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi and they really looked the part. One short and “rounder” and one tall and skinnier. The person who didn’t look the part was Dennis Hopper, who played the famous antagonist Bowser. While Dennis Hopper is awesome, Bowser was just, like, a guy. Also, I just remembered, Mario is both Mario’s first and last name. So, the Mario brothers’ full names are actually Mario Mario and Luigi Mario.

Still image from the 1993 fantasy adventure film "Super Mario Bros." featuring John Leguizamo as Luigi and Bob Hoskins as Mario.

The movie is pretty much a mess, but apparently, it was even messier during production. John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins would deal with the troublesome production by drinking between takes. This drinking led to Bob Hoskins breaking his hand. Bob was also stabbed four times, electrocuted, and almost drowned. Needless to say, the movie was considered a failure. Such a failure in fact that Nintendo basically closed its doors to Hollywood for thirty years.

In those thirty years, Hollywood changed, the studios basically stopped making anything original for fear of failure (which in itself is setting themselves up for failure since people are growing bored of remakes) and seems to have cracked the code for adapting popular non-film franchises into films. I’m not too sure how it happened but a Mario movie was green lit by Nintendo. If you don’t know, The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a massive hit, raking in over 1.3 billion gold coins at the box office. Chris Pratt was the controversial choice for the voice of Mario, Charlie Day voiced Luigi, and the true saving grace of the film, Jack Black, voiced Bowser. Except for Bowser, I did not like this movie. I know I’m a “grown-up” and the movie was “made for kids” but I don’t accept that as an excuse for the surface-level film they put out. One year before, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish came out and that was incredible. That movie was made for kids. So is every Studio Ghibli movie. All are incredibly deep and original kids’ movies, so what’s Mario’s excuse?

Image from the 2023 animated adventure comedy film "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" featuring Mario, Princess Peach, and Toad.

Both Mario movies start with the Mario brothers living in New York, doing their normal jobs, and living their normal lives. In both movies, they end up going through some kind of tunnel, a “rabbit hole” if you like, to the Mushroom Kingdom. In the 1993 film, it’s like a portal or something that looks like a rock, and in the 2023 movie, it’s a classic warp pipe from the video game. Regardless of what the method is for their transport to the Mushroom Kingdom, both movies start pretty much the same way as, you guessed it, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Regarding story similarities, in both Mario movies as well as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the protagonists have to learn the “rules” of the wild lands in which they have found themselves and a moment where they use things they learned from their outside world in the current “Wonderland.”

The similarities don’t end there though. Going back to the video games, when Mario gets a red mushroom, he gets bigger. When he gets a purple one, he gets smaller. Seems an awful lot like “Eat Me” and “Drink Me” from Alice in Wonderland. A weird thing both IPs have in common is drugs. Alice has become an unofficial mascot for LSD. People claim the movie perfectly encapsulates an acid trip and while the story does lack a scene of Alice panicking while inside a music festival porta potty, I can see where that argument comes from. Being sucked into a new world, learning how it works, not being at the wheel of the journey, having to roll with the punches. It makes sense. But when LSD is mentioned, its more natural cousin is always right around the corner. I’m of course talking about psilocybin mushrooms. See where I’m going here? Since the beginning of Mario, people have pointed out that a guy eating mushrooms and stepping on monsters sounds a whole lot like a mushroom trip. I do want to point out that talking to someone who played a Mario game for the first time is much better than talking to someone who did mushrooms for the first time because instead of misquoting headlines from internet articles about psilocybin therapy, they will talk about how they defeated Bowser and saved Princess Peach.

Image from the 2023 animated adventure comedy film "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" featuring Mario and Toad in a multi-colored mushroom forest.

From similar beginnings in their stories to similarities in how people perceived them in popular culture, the parallels between Mario and Alice are not hard to see once you know where to look. Like I’ve said in previous articles, if you examine popular franchises across all forms of media, you’ll find that many of them have a lot in common with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Which of course means that, whether they knew it or not, the creators drew inspiration from Alice. It makes sense. Alice was groundbreaking, it changed storytelling forever. This is Alice’s Wonderland and we are just living in it.

Jared Hoffman Headshot

Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and egos he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?

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