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Mario Bros. is the greatest Catholic animated franchise ever

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Princess Peach is obviously a Marian figure who represents goodness, purity and innocence. Photo: © 2023 Nintendo and Universal Studios
Princess Peach is obviously a Marian figure who represents goodness, purity and innocence. Photo: © 2023 Nintendo and Universal Studios

Almost a month after it hit theatres, The Super Mario Bros. Movie continues to break records. Illumination’s video game adaptation has collected more than $1.248bn worldwide, making it the third highest grossing animated film currently showing at theatres.

Many reviewers have attributed this success to the film’s focus on traditional storytelling, its respect of the long-standing Mario Bros. franchise, and its shying away from “woke” themes.

But the real reason for its success is simple: Mario Bros. is a Catholic franchise. Before you think that this is some sort of pipe dream, take a good look into the plot and characters.

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After Princess Peach is kidnapped and her kingdom conquered by King Koopa, aka Bowser, two Italian plumbers from Brooklyn must travel across the Mushroom Kingdom to save the damsel and defeat the tyrant, along with his evil servants.

It’s a classic good versus evil story. The hero must overcome the forces of evil and sacrifice himself (even if he does have multiple lives) for the sake of another.

Animated characters Mario, voiced by Chris Pratt, and Luigi, voiced by Charlie Day, appear in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” Image: OSV News photo/Universal
Animated characters Mario, voiced by Chris Pratt, and Luigi, voiced by Charlie Day, appear in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” Image: OSV News photo/Universal

But it’s much deeper than that. Princess Peach is obviously a Marian figure who represents goodness, purity and innocence. She rules from her castle, first depicted in Mario 64 as a Gothic revival pile, studded with stained glass-windows. She is attended to by a legion of toadstool servants.

The villain Bowser obviously represents the evil one, with his dragon-like appearance and demonic demeanour. His only desire is to pursue to the end the enmity between him and the woman (Gen 3:15), and keep her hidden in his dungeon while he sends out his mindless-mutated minions to corrupt her kingdom.

Enter Mario and Luigi, two migrants from Catholic Italy to Brooklyn. Without a doubt these two plucky plumbers heard Mass at one of the borough’s historically Italian parishes, perhaps St Rosalia’s (before it was demolished), Regina Pacis or St Francis of Paola.

Surely Mario has wept bitter tears in these parishes’ confessionals, calling to mind the great sinners of scripture and mouthing a mournful, “it’s a-me.”

The brothers have strong family values and a firm moral code, which had to come from somewhere. I would be surprised if there wasn’t a print of Da Vinci’s Last Supper and a cross stitch of St John Paul II in their home.

Bowser represents the evil one with his dragon-like appearance and demonic demeanour. Photo: © Universal Pictures
Bowser represents the evil one with his dragon-like appearance and demonic demeanour. Photo: © Universal Pictures

As the pair make their journey across the Mushroom Kingdom, they take out minion after minion, with the help of one of Princess Peach’s servants, Toad. After each world, the brothers are greeted by Toad who famously tells them that “the princess is in another castle.”

Toad is here clearly evoking Augustine’s teaching that God’s summum bonum, or greatest good, cannot be found on Earth; our hearts will always be restless as long as we search for fulfilment in the castles of this world.

Toad also gives the brothers extra items to help them along the way. Some may say that Toad is an angel, bestowing these item boxes (let’s call them graces) on the protagonists, so they may be able to fulfil their mission.

Others may draw parallels between Toad and that of the Archangel Raphael who helped Tobias along his journey to rescue Sarah from a jealous demon.

Toad give Mario a cheep cheep fish as his last item and instruct him to burn its heart and liver (Tobit 6:8-17) when he finally meets Princess Peach at the game’s conclusion.

So the next time you make it past the final world, pull the axe, release that bridge and send King Koopa down into the fire, remember that you are playing as one of the greatest Catholic characters .

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