Author: Steven Applebaum (Redstar)
August 27, 2010
Lance Henriksen as "The King" in Super Mario Bros.
While his name in certain early draft scripts was "King Bowser," this character in the Super Mario Bros. movie is actually one of the heroes. In actuality, he isn't even the same character as the King Bowser of the video games; that role is filled by the villainous President Koopa (Dennis Hopper).
The King, as played by Lance Henriksen, appears to be a literal interpretation of the oft-implied but rarely seen Mushroom King of the early games in the Super Mario series. In the film, the Mushroom King is a city-spanning network of sentient fungus de-evolved from the once-humanoid King. Despite this handicap, The King continues to subvert and delay President Koopa's plans by choking his construction projects through encroaching fungus. It is only upon the arrival of the Mario Brothers that he can play a more active part in the downfall of President Koopa. At various points throughout the movie he assists the brothers by both saving them and providing them with items to aid in their quest against Koopa.
The King's first appearance in the movie is as a drooping fungus tendril that offers a Bob-Omb to Mario and Luigi soon after they escape from the devolution chamber into the jail-complex. Luigi recognizes the intelligence in the fungus and notes its attempt to communicate with them, but unfortunately is pulled away by Mario before he can accept the Bob-Omb due to several Goomba storming towards them.
"You'll be talkin' to the mildew on the shower next..."
The King would soon after help the brothers again by grappling onto the police car they had stolen and acting as a bungie to prevent it from plummeting into the rocks at the bottom of the Koopahari Desert Tunnel Work Project.
He again offers Mario and Luigi a Bob-Omb immediately following the Boom Boom Bar scene when they are attempting to escape the raiding Goombas brought by Lena. This time Luigi is quickly able to take it just before they jump into a passing Sludge Gulper garbage truck.
"I think it's trying to give us that thing!"
The next scene then has President Koopa entering Devo 4, the chamber where The King is held. This marks Bowser's first direct appearance and features a gloating Koopa patronizingly suggesting he had granted The King's wish to be everywhere at once by de-evolving him into fungus.
The de-evolved king, held in Devo 4
Several scenes later Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis) escapes from her suite at the top of Koopa Tower after an attempted attack from a jealous Lena (Fiona Shaw). Daisy runs through the corridors of the tower until she runs into the soon-to-be-executed Iggy and Spike. They beg for her aid in helping them, who acquiesces. The two thank her by then leading her to Devo 4 with the promise of meeting her father. With astonishment she sees the colossal gourd of fungus that is the former King. Iggy and Spike take their leave to allow Daisy to come-to-terms with what has happened to her father.
Concurrent to this scene, Mario and Luigi have infiltrated the tower and are now attempting to cross an elevator shaft. Luigi, believing in the possibility, jumps across the abyss and is unknowingly caught by the belt by a hook and believes himself to be flying. He urges Mario to jump next, who then plummets down the shaft and is only saved by Bowser's quick formation of a fungus-trampoline that propels him into Luigi's arms.
"It's a trampoline!" (obscure Mario reference)
After collecting themselves on the other side they are then led to Princess Daisy through directions she's provided through a PA system in Devo 4. She introduces them to The King before they try to have her leave with them but she insists on staying to connect with her father.
"Well...he was my father..."
Finally, after the devolution and defeat of Koopa at the end of the movie, The King is shown reverting back to his humanoid form. Lance Henriksen, in a brief cameo, portrays the humanoid king in the regal attire of a monarch. He remarks that he "Loves those plumbers" before the movie returns to Mario and Luigi, celebrating with Daisy and the rest of Dinohattan.
Conception and Development
As a character, very little is known about The King. While his role in the movie are important his presence is secondary at best and no background or personality is ever communicated to the audience. However, some further indication of his role does exist in previous versions of the script and related merchandise.
Princess Daisy's father first exists as a character in the original 1991 script by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein wherein the role was filled by the magician Woltan. However, Woltan is an important character with an active role in the development of the plot with little characteristics shared with the later King of the finished film. He appears to have merely been a precursor whose only resemblance was a sharing of roles, not characterization.
The King is later mentioned in the earlier incarnation of the released film's script written by Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement. In this script, the character is mentioned by Toad to have been a "dictator" that was overthrown and de-evolved by Koopa and is now getting his revenge by consuming the water supply and preventing plant growth. There's no indication if this king was an actual dictator or merely retroactive fact pushed by Koopa. No other details are revealed, even those that would indicate whether he was Princess Daisy's father or an unrelated ruler.
Like his daughter Daisy, The King is not specifically based on any characters seen in the game continuity. Rather, he is a combination of traits and archetypes shared by multiple figures and thus tangentially a new character. This is not necessarily a deviation from established story or characterization as the Mushroom King (as mentioned in the beginning of this profile) was never an important or even evident figure in the video game series. He was only officially mentioned in the original Super Mario Bros. instruction manual and only truly exists as a consistent and notable figure in the somewhat obscure comics and novels.
It is this lack of established notability that suggests The King's true inspiration came from the general concept of a "transformed king" rather than any individual figure. Such a concept of a "transformed king" was first seen in the Super Mario Bros. 3 game, in which seven kings from seven kingdoms are transformed into different animals (Super Mario Bros. series enemies in later editions) through the dark magic of Koopa's children. None of these kings are explicitly stated to be Princess Toadstool's father, which is irrelevant as her role in the movie is instead played by a composite and entirely new character.
The "true" name of the king perhaps adds to the confusion surrounding the character. Scripts referred to the character as King "Karma," King "Murphy," and most infamously...King "Bowser." More recent fans of the video game series may be entirely unaware that the large fire-breathing turtle that Mario fights was once known as King Koopa and that the name "Bowser" is a somewhat recent localization change. While the name "Koopa" was a simple and legitimate choice for Hopper's character, why it was chosen to name the Mushroom King "Bowser" is a much more complicated story.
It should first be noted that the name "King Bowser" is never spoken in the actual movie and that Lance Henriksen is credited as "The King" in the ending credits. The name "King Bowser" first shows up in the Ed Solomon drafts of the screenplay. The name also appears in multiple sources, including the August 1993 issue of N-Sider magazine and Todd Strasser's tie-in novelization of the movie. N-Sider actually comments on the confusion in the use of Koopa/Bowser for separate characters but does not explain why. Strasser's novelization uses the name through a bit of added dialogue when Koopa speaks to Bowser in Devo 4.
So although it was never used in the finished film, "Bowser" was, at one time, the name chosen for the Mushroom King. It can be speculated that someone must have noticed that this proposed name of the Mushroom King and Dennis Hopper's King Koopa were actually describing the same character from the games. Since this was only a naming issue, it wouldn't have been hard to simply cut this fact out of the film and rename Lance Henriksen's character to "The King" in the film's credits. However, as movie tie-in novels, merchandise, and magazine articles are produced well in advance of the film's release, there probably wasn't enough time or resources to correct the issue.
Thanks to TMK for the in-game screenshots.