In The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Princess Peach Is Just Mario's Cheerleader, And That's A Problem

In Aaron Horvath's and Michael Jelenic's new animated film "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," the title brothers (Chris Pratt and Charlie Day) find themselves whisked away from modern-day Brooklyn into a fantasy world called the Mushroom Kingdom. Said Kingdom is overseen by the benevolent-yet-heroic Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), an interdimensional monarch who cares deeply for the many innocent, mushroom-shaped citizens who live in her charge. She is capable at parkour, a skilled motorcyclist, and an experienced diplomat; over the course of the film, she treks to a neighboring kingdom to request military aid. She has no parents present, so it's a little baffling as to why she is called a princess and not a queen.

In most of the original Super Mario Bros. video games, the Princess was merely a damsel in distress. An evil, fire-breathing dragon named Bowser would kidnap her and keep her in a terrifying distant castle surrounded by lava. It would be the job of the brave knight — in this case, a plumber in overalls — to traverse an enemy-strewn fantasy kingdom to defeat the dragon and rescue her. In some of the games, the Princess was a playable character, but to this day, she has retained much of her medieval "damsel in distress" status. 

Seeking to alter her image and give the character agency, the filmmakers behind "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" wisely transformed the Princess into a functional, talented politician. She was every bit able to confront Bowser herself and protect her panicking toadstool people. She even revealed that, when it came to Mario-like parkour, she gained the knack almost immediately. 

Go, Mario, go!

To clarify for any sexist a-holes that may be reading: Transforming Peach into a hero is a good thing and in keeping with her role in the video games. As early as 1988's Super Mario Bros. 2, the Princess was a part of the action. In sport-related Mario games (Super Mario Kart, Mario Golf, and the like), one can become a champ playing as her. She was often kidnapped, yes, but there are clearly no hard feelings in the Mushroom Kingdom; the kidnapping victim could blow off steam throwing bombs at her kidnapper at the weekend's go-karting match. Insisting that Peach always remain a damsel in distress is to demand very strict, narrow-minded, sexist views of the character and the role of women in video games in general.

But because "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is about, well, Mario, the ultra-capable Peach is forced to fulfill a mentor role. Peach spends most of the film standing off to the side, cheering on a character who has a lot to learn about Mushroom Kingdom life. When Peach visits the Kingdom of Donkey Kong, she is merely allowing Mario to tag along in search of his brother. Indeed, when one of her beloved Toads asks who he is, she shouts that he is unimportant.

An ensemble?

Staging Mario as an outsider tag-along is not a terrible storytelling idea. It merely means that he'll be part of an ensemble and that his motivations will be different from Peach's. And while Mario eventually enacts a typical Hero's Journey — he slowly gains more and more power, transforming into a hero by the end — that leaves Peach a little high and dry. Initially presented as a hero herself, Peach finds herself merely cheering Mario on. Though she's also a parkour expert and a dragon fighter, too many times, Peach leaves heroism to Mario and Luigi.

Over the years, the many, many Super Marios Bros. games have evolved from being a double-hander about Mario and Luigi into being, essentially, a series of ensemble games. There is now an entire extant canon of "good guy" characters to choose from beyond Mario and Luigi. Peach is no longer even the only heroic princess. There is also a Princess Daisy, and a Princess Rosalina. One can play as Toad, as Toadette, as Yoshi, as Donkey Kong, or as Diddy Kong. While the original fairy tale conceit of the first Super Mario games were what initially defined the franchise, surely a 2023 film could acknowledge that said conceit was left behind long ago. 

"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" could easily have been a "team" movie in which an ever-growing cadre of heroes would work in equal measures to defeat an encroaching turtle dragon. As a member of royalty, Princess Peach could have led the charge, mounting a steed — or a motorcycle — and giving command instructions. Mario, the rogue, would have to learn from her, but also work with her.

But as it stands, she's merely a cheerleader. And, boy howdy, that's a lot less interesting.