“Super Mario Bros” flips the damsel in distress trope on its head

Reading Time: 2 minutes Princess Peach is the quintessential damsel in distress. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” changes that.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Feminist activists have criticized video games and their reliance on the damsel in distress trope for nearly as long as video games have been around. The use and abuse of the trope is well documented by YouTube channels like “Feminist Frequency,” who allege that women are often rendered helpless and inactive in games such as “Super Mario Bros. (1985)” and the series’ subsequent installments.

However, while Mario games typically begin with Bowser and his minions kidnapping Princess Peach, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” opens with a refreshing and different course of events — Mario may still be the hero, but Peach is no damsel — this time, the damsel is Luigi.

While right-wing commentators have reacted negatively to Peach’s new characterization, the change serves both a social and a narrative purpose. The film focuses heavily on the brotherly relationship between Mario and Luigi, and by having Luigi become the person that Mario sets out to rescue, the familial bond is only made stronger. If instead the movie delivered a rehashed version of the narrative where Mario rescues the princess with a romantic motivation, “Super Mario Bros.” would ring more hollow than it already does.

The film certainly has its problems, but it is unequivocally fun and flawlessly animated. Two weeks after the movie’s release, its popularity continues to climb. Its opening weekend was the biggest ever for an animated feature, and Jack Black’s hit song “Peaches” crested to the Billboard Hot 100 on April 17.

Yes, the movie’s plot is still just as formulaic as any of the source material it is based on, and yes, animation studios ought to be hiring actual voice actors instead of Chris Pratt and Anya Taylor-Joy, and sure, Peach is still objectified and lusted after by Bowser to an obsessive extent. But, hey, at least Peach is cool.