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Princess Peach takes the lead in new 'Super Mario' movie

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Now let's talk about one of the most iconic characters in Nintendo's Mario Brothers franchise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Princess Peach) Princess Peach.

SUMMERS: With her bright pink dress and blonde hair, some know her for her unmatched ability to get kidnapped again and again and again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAMANTHA KELLY: (As Princess Peach) Mario. Mario.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Bowser, laughter).

KELLY: (As Princess Peach) Help me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Bowser, inaudible).

KELLY: (As Princess Peach) Mario.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Mario) Oh, no.

SUMMERS: But in the new "Super Mario Brothers" movie, Peach is fearless and taking charge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: (As Princess Peach) Bowser is coming. Together, we are going to stop that monster.

SUMMERS: Gene Park has written about the evolution of Princess Peach for The Washington Post and joins us now. Hey there.

GENE PARK: Hi, Juana. How are you?

SUMMERS: I'm well. Thanks for joining us. Gene, for people who have not yet seen this movie, which has been a huge blockbuster, give us the elevator pitch. What's the premise here?

PARK: Sure. It's basically the first Mario movie that's actually based on the video games. Originally, Nintendo had funded a 1993 movie that was very experimental and very sci-fi-ish in terms of how it depicted a post-apocalyptic landscape in Brooklyn. So it really had nothing to do with the games from the '80s and '90s. And this movie is a kind of a course correction of that. And right now it's the No. 1 movie of 2023.

SUMMERS: You wrote about this film for The Washington Post, and you wrote specifically about how Princess Peach was portrayed. You called her competent, fearless, a warrior, even. So can you just give us a couple of examples of the Peach that we see in this movie? What's she like?

PARK: Yeah. Princess Peach here was striking. Anya Taylor-Joy's depiction definitely showcases someone who is a competent political leader. She's not only just a monarch of the Mushroom Kingdom, which Mario and Luigi find themselves in in the movie. She's basically secretary of state and secretary of defense, where she knows that it's wartime. And she has to travel to the kingdom of Donkey Kong to kind of corral kind of a wartime coalition against the evil Koopa Kingdom. So you see this all in action, and she's planning all of this without Mario's assistance.

SUMMERS: It's so interesting to me because, I mean, Peach has been around for decades. I grew up playing these games and watching her character as one of the few women in this universe, one of the few playable women, as you point out, in video games. And I know that we've seen her in varying degrees of independence over the years. Some have been quite successful. Some have kind of fallen flat. Can you talk about some of those examples that were not so successful in giving Peach some independence?

PARK: So Nintendo in 2005 released a video game called Super Princess Peach, and this was the first game that starred Peach. And not only was she playable, but she was the main protagonist. And so you would think that that's great. You know, Princess Peach has actually been the most visible and prolific woman in video games. She's appeared in 60 video games, and she's playable in 40. No other fictional character - woman in a video game has appeared in more games than her. But instead, you know, in Super Princess Peach, instead of using power-ups like mushrooms and flowers to do her attacks, she actually relies on her emotions. And the game actually has an emotion meter or what's called a vibe meter where, you know, she attacks using her anger, her sorrow, her joy. So when she's angry, she explodes into a ball of flame, and she's basically untouchable, which is sad. She...

SUMMERS: I have a couple thoughts about this portrayal of Princess Peach, and they're not positive ones.

PARK: Yeah. So that was kind of, like, not really - that was one step forward, two steps back.

SUMMERS: Let's turn back now to the movie. How does the movie go about making that right? I assume we do not see a Princess Peach who bursts into flames when she is upset or angry.

PARK: Yeah. In the "Mario" movie, you know, she obviously goes through many trials and tribulations. She even hints at her unknown past, where she was kind of orphaned and kind of left at the Mushroom Kingdom. And she doesn't really dwell on this. And, you know, maybe movie critics might consider that as kind of, like, a plot hole. But I thought it was interesting that, you know, she's a woman who doesn't really let her past drag her behind, especially when there's more important matters at hand. And part of that is also kind of mentoring Mario, leading him to different power-ups and leading him to unlock his true potential as the acrobatic plumber that we know him today.

SUMMERS: Gene, this movie is over. But the character of Princess Peach - well, she is enduring. So what do you think is next on the horizon for her?

PARK: You know, people do seem to really love these portrayals. And, you know, due to the success of the movie, I do - definitely do think that we're probably going to see more movies out of this, a sequel. And who knows? Maybe we'll finally get another Super Princess Peach game and a "Super Princess Peach" movie. Who knows?

SUMMERS: Who knows, indeed? Gene Park. He covers video games for The Washington Post. Thank you so much.

PARK: Thank you so much, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEACHES")

JACK BLACK: (Singing) Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, I love you. Oh. Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, Peaches, I love you. Oh, Mario, Luigi and a Donkey Kong, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Sarah Handel
Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.