Monday, September 7, 2009

Donkey Kong: The Album

My brother sent me an excellent birthday gift - he transferred several of our old videogame 33 1/3 RPM LP vinyl record albums to digital form.

I have been re-listening to Kid Stuff's 1983 release, Donkey Kong Goes Home, a picture-disc based on the classic Nintendo videogame.  If you've never heard it before, you're not missing much.  The production values are typical of the kids' story-with-songs genre -- synth-heavy music aping the pop sound of the early 80's, and voice acting on the low end of the Saturday morning scale by what sounds like two or three actors.  The whole thing feels rushed, most likely because nobody knew how long this whole video game fad was going to last and it was important to cash in quickly.

The album is more interesting from a historical perspective, because it pre-dates almost everything Nintendo officially established about Mario as a character later on.  In this story, Mario is not a plumber or a carpenter or any sort of skilled tradesman at all.  Instead, he runs a pizza parlor with delivery service in Gamesville, because, y'know, he's Italian.  He talks like Don Novello's Father Guido Sarducci as he takes phone orders for "pizza" with no details solicited or provided -- must be a Hot'n'Ready-type of operation.  Donkey Kong used to live in the Gamesville Zoo, where Mario and his delivery girl(friend?) Pauline befriended him and delivered food to him, until the zoo was closed and he was sold to a traveling circus.  As the plot gets underway, Donkey Kong is stricken with some sort of amnesia/second-childhood/homesickness syndrome during a stop in Gamesville, breaks out of his cage, and heads for the construction site where the zoo used to stand, across the street from Mario's pizza joint.  He kidnaps Pauline, climbs the tower-in-progress and begins throwing barrels of oil down at Mario, who is trying to reach the top to negotiate a rescue.  As the heroic Mario gets closer to the top of the tower, Donkey Kong remembers his old friend and cheerfully surrenders, avoiding that nasty head-first fall as seen in the actual game.  Bathed in the gorilla-phobic town's unusually generous gratitude, Mario suggests that a new zoo be constructed on the top of the office building under construction to make Donkey Kong more comfortable, and the Gamesville powers-that-be commit the top 20 floors to the project without so much as a planning commission review.  Thereby, I'm sure, making the space immediately below rather difficult to rent, and imposing considerable trauma on the larger animals who would presumably have to be airlifted into the upper reaches of a high-rise.

The most dated aspect of the album, actually, is the story's idea that Donkey Kong is homesick for the zoo -- a mournful ballad called "No More Zoo For You" portrays it as an idyllic experience:  a place to roam; a place that's good for you.  I suppose it beats life on the road with the circus, but we aren't provide with many details about the habitat or care standards of this zoo, and what we can deduce is not impressive.  Clearly it wasn't doing very well if it went under and sold all the animals to a circus, and it couldn't have provided much roaming space for a giant gorilla if it's now the site of a single office building.

I also note that we haven't heard much about Pauline since.  The story doesn't establish any sort of romantic relationship between Mario and Pauline -- and if such existed, presumably the vertiginous trauma of being kidnapped by a giant gorilla and carried to the top of a rickety, loosely assembled collection of girders caused her to ditch the pizza delivery gig and/or the guy with the mustache and get a real job and/or boyfriend.  And Mario's subsequent career path remains a mystery -- I like to think the pizza business put him through med school, his stint as Dr. Mario ended in some sort of scandal, and he became a plumber; maybe he was a gastroenterologist.  Then somehow he moved from Gamesville to the Mushroom Kingdom... oh, wait.  Wait.  I see the bigger picture now.  Prescription pad abuse, I'd wager.

So canon, this is not.  But I would guess that the project was profitable for Kid Stuff during its short commercial life -- at least these hopeful, poorly-rhymed lyrics have been prophetic for Nintendo over the long run:

It's a sure bet when you trust in Mario
He got the job done, and now he's Smile-y-o
He didn't let us down.
He didn't let us down.
He didn't let us down.
It's a sure bet when we trust in Mario

It probably goes better with a big bowl of Donkey Kong brand cereal.

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