It’s been a tough week. The 45th President of the United States is about to be sworn in as a man who mocked a disabled reporter, incited violence, lied constantly, and was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. This is not normal. It’s the sort of thing that makes you yearn for parallel dimensions. Like… what if the dinosaurs weren’t all destroyed? What if the impact of that meteor created a parallel dimension where dinosaurs continued to thrive and evolve into intelligent, vicious, and aggressive beings… just like us? And hey, what if they found a way back?

Super Mario Bros. ain’t no game. It’s a live action thrill ride. Or at least, that’s what the poster would lead you to believe. In truth, the 1993 family film is a remarkably precient piece of cinema to engage with in today’s political climate. The character of President Koopa, for instance, is both an antagonist and tragic anti-hero to the film, depending on who you ask. The film cast Dennis Hopper to play Koopa as a not-so-benevolent dictator ruling over an alternative New York City with an iron fist. With his slicked back blonde hair and tailored suits, this is not the Bowser we know from the games. He was created solely for the film. It’s possible that this character was even based on a real world figure. Yet it’s difficult, especially after so much time has passed, to imagine who it may have been. So let’s take a closer look at this character to discern where he truly finds his form.

Even before his first physical appearance in the film, it’s clear that President Koopa is powerful businessman. Dinohattan is covered in his name, allowing the egotistical tyrant a sense of ownership over the NYC analogue. Koopa Square, Koopa Kino, and Koopa Tower are just some of the locations seen in the background. His image is iconic, with the strange blonde hairstyle and plastic smile that makes him so recognizable plastering gigantic billboards throughout the city. If he is a legitimate politician, it’s clear he was a businessman first, his brand so prominently displayed.

Worryingly, President Koopa has also shown a distaste for freedom of the media. Citizens such as Toad are routinely arrested for singing anti-Koopa songs and prisons seem to be crowded with the dissenters bred of an angry populace. Some claim these hardships Dinohattan faces are “all because of the evil King Koopa” and his policies, but the headlines still praise his glory. No legitimate media sources will dare cover the true story.

President Koopa’s regime is based on anti-mammal policy. He blames the mammals for Dinohattan’s lack of resources, paints them as dirty animals, and claims any illegal “aliens” that come into Dinohattan are automatically dangerous criminals. He keeps up this hatred even in private. That’s why he wants to merge the dimensions and eliminate them forever. His only goal is to make Dinohattan great again.

In person, President Koopa comes across as arrogant, bitter, and entitled. When Koopa meets the plumbers face to face, he does so in the guise of a lawyer in a suit. Although he refuses to even touch the mammals, he knows how to present himself and how to bargain. He does, after all, have all the best words. He uses the very obvious fake name Larry Lazard, to pretend to be someone he isn’t, because who could do a better job than he himself? It just seems odd. He’s obviously so well known. Why would he think he could get away with just pretending to be someone else?

It becomes an interesting case when Mario and Luigi call him out on this deception. To this, Koopa responds with “Did I lie?”. He says the phrase in a way that seems to mock his opponents while at the same time utterly failing to acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part. It’s a childlike comment, his face an exaggerated expression of petulance at its highest form. It’s an important scene, one that shows President Koopa is as much thin-skinned as his is a monster, and it’s this aspect which will consistently be his downfall.

One of the most defining features of President Koopa is that he’s proud of his heritage. He believes in his own genetic superiority. Descended from the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex, Koopa feels he is fit to rule by divine right, even if it does leave him with tiny, vestigial hands. Although he proudly states the name, in reality, Koopa is no more a “dinosaur” than Mario is a monkey, but his own complete misunderstanding of science prevents him from realising his opponents are more alike than he claims.

Let’s also look at the way he treats women. President Koopa doesn’t respect his wife. Viewing her as a subservient pawn, he uses her as a sounding board for his own voice. He doesn’t listen to her and ultimately drives her away while eyeing a younger woman as a possible future mate. In private, he takes part in perverted sexual proclivities. His underlings walk in on him taking a bath in mud. Mud baths aren’t intrinsically odd, but his approach to it makes it clear that this is a deviant fetish. “You know what I love about mud? It’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time.” Sorry, that scene just… made me squirm.

Still, it might not be fair to keep attacking President Koopa on a personal level. Politics are more than just one man. He surrounds himself with the best people, after all. He has an evolution machine! He’s able to make even the most inexperienced lackey a trustworthy member of a higher position! Naturally, President Koopa gives his own orders to these “smarter” experts, making threats when they suggest doing things any other way than President Koopa has commanded and publicly disowning those who might oppose him. As any firm-handed ruler might, President Koopa often gets called a fascist or “Our not so benevolent dictator”. There’s even the occasional “HAIL KOOPA” from a jackbooted officer, but it’s nothing to worry about. Really.

Yet by the end of the film, we also see President Koopa as a tragic figure. Alone in Koopa Tower, he sits and watches the events on the movie unfold on screens from his office. He orders a pizza for one, something it’s clear he does often. This is probably the most humanizing moment in the entire film. Maybe he can reach out through these screens to send missives to a dwindling fanbase. He should have friends. I can think of 140 characters he would get along famously with.

Super Mario Bros. was released in 1993. After 24 years, it’s tough to remember which icon would fit the criteria for the character of President Koopa. The person in question would need to be a New York City icon, known for his wealth, fame, and petulant attitudes. Someone who it was clear would never succeed politically, and who would cause utter chaos and destruction if he did. And ultimately, a complete loser, a misanthropic womanizing loner who had no genuine personal connections of any kind. Sad.

Billy Seguire
A Toronto-based writer and reviewer who thrives on good science-fiction and stories that defy expectations. Always tries to find a way to be excited about what he's doing. Definitely isn't just two kids in a trenchcoat. Co-Host of Scooby Dos or Scooby Don'ts.

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