Island of Misfit Toys: Koopa from Super Mario Bros. (Ertl Toys, 1993)

MisfitToys

A very weird one this week, even for the Island of Misfit Toys. We’re looking at Koopa from Ertl’s Super Mario Bros. line of action figures, produced in 1993 to coincide with the live-action movie based on the ubiquitous Nintendo video game.

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I found this beauty at a trashy comic book show in a “3 for $5 dollars” bin.

Before we begin looking at this , I suppose I should say something about the movie which inspired the toy. I recently read Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan, an exhaustive look at the ups and downs of the famous video game maker through the lens of their most popular character. One thing that became very apparent while reading Ryan’s book is how controllingly hands-on Nintendo is with Mario. Outside of some educational games, only Nintendo has ever made a Super Mario video game. They carefully manage and control the brand… which is why this movie is such an anomaly. When I saw Super Mario Bros, I knew it was a goddamn mess of a film… and I was a child. Children indiscriminately like EVERYTHING… and I hated Super Mario Bros. That says something.

Starring Bob Hoskins and a young John Leguizamo, the movie is a random mishmash of sci-fi and fantasy tropes and seemed to go out of its’ way NOT to reference the video games which inspired the film. It retained none of the joyous charm of the Mario video games, instead opting for a run-down dystopian setting. Someone made the incredibly stupid choice to avoid putting Mario and Luigi in their signature costumes until something like the last 10 minutes of the movie. It’s a tough sit of a film for an 11 year old. I can’t imagine revisiting it today.

I will say this however: the casting for the flick is pretty good. Besides Bob Hoskins (who’s a dead ringer for Mario in the movie), the film’s best/weirdest choice was hiring notorious pain-in-the-ass actor Dennis Hopper to play King Koopa. Career wise, Hopper was on the lowest part of his downward spiral when he made Super Mario Bros. in ’93, but was about to have a small comeback thanks to roles in True Romance and most significantly, his turn as the villain in Speed. He’s something of an icon of the New Hollywood movies of the 1970’s thanks to his work in Easy Rider, which is why I bought this toy.

PACKAGING

It’s standard bubble on a blister card. I want to give some props to the really nice painted artwork on the front of the card.

It’s worth noting that these toys are Officially Licensed Product of Nintendo, and bear the recognizable seal that came affixed to all Nintendo cartridges and periphery gaming equipment.

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The back of the card includes pictures of all six toys in the line and a small bio of Koopa for kids to “Clip & Save.”

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The bio offers a look at the “de-evolved” Koopa which… needs some explaining, I suppose. In brief, all the citizens of Dinohatten (the movie’s stand-in for the Mushroom Kingdom) are human/dinosaur hybrids, evolved over millions of years differently than human beings in our world. It’s one of those awful, confusing choices that put Super Mario Bros. leagues away from the video games which inspired it and confused young kids.

SCULPTING

I was interested to see this line of action figures was made by ERTL, a toy company primarily known for making die cast cars and trucks akin to Tonka and Hot Wheels. I had never seen an ERTL toy that wasn’t a metal tractor or combine and thought the Mario Brothers license was a weird fit for the company. Having said that, this sculpt is on-par with market standards in 1993.

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Whoever sculpted Hopper’s likeness pretty much nailed it. The sculpt on the rest of the body is fairly soft, with a minimal amount of details.

PAINT

The paint on Koopa is super sloppy and underdone. The entire figure is cast in blue plastic with a few highlighted details of red, white and silver glopped on here and there but even for 1993, this was a cheap looking paint job.

ARTICULATION

Koopa gets a standard five points of articulation, cut joints at the neck and shoulders and two at the hips. There’s not much to say beyond that except this was pretty much the standard amount of articulation for a toy this size (4.5-5 inches high).

ACCESSORIES

Koopa comes with one accessory and it’s a somewhat hilarious one. It’s a Devo Gun, a prop from the film that Koopa would use to “deevolve” people to a plant-like state.

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What makes the inclusion of this accessory so funny is that it’s a screen accurate representation of a lame-ass prop from the movie. By that I mean the people who made the movie, instead of designing a brand-new gun to give its’ main villain, instead repurposed a Super Scope, a light gun accessory made by Nintendo for the SNES.

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I mean… if you watch the Super Maro Bros. movie (and I’m not recommending you do) and you see the Devo Gun, it’s clearly just a Super Scope.

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The Devo gun is a bit strange in that the brightly colored projectile is forever jammed into the barrel of the gun. Pressing the button at the bottom of the barrel fires the projectile but it remains safely within the mechanism. I would guess this was done to avoid a choking hazard, although I can recall many toys from my childhood which had been designed in such a way as to allow for projectiles to be fired from weapons. The thing that really sucks about the accessory is that, once deployed, it’s INCREDIBLY hard to get the projectile locked back in! Seriously, I fired it once and it took me like five minutes to get it reloaded.

OVERALL

Weak sauce. ERTL’s Super Mario Bros. toy line stunk up the racks of KayBee toys on deep discount long after Super Mario Bros. has slunk it’s way out of theaters as a box-office disappointment, especially the villains in the toy line. While the head sculpt of Dennis Hopper is decent, everything else about Koopa is cheap and unappealing… and also a missed opportunity.

ToyBiz would eventually make a truly great Mario Brothers action figure line in 2002 that would include a more accurate Koopa/Bowser action figure but in ’93, for the majority of the 1990’s, this is what kids would have had to contend with if they wanted an officially licensed Mario toy.

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