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The Surprising Cartoon Character That Led To The Creation Of Mario

When you look at Nintendo's Mario, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that he was based on a classic cartoon character. With his cartoonish proportions, classic white gloves, and his constant triumph over a recurring villain, he checks all the boxes of golden-age animated heroes. But which character does he most resemble? Is he a wise-talking trickster like Looney Tunes' own Bugs Bunny? Is he involved in an endless cat-and-mouse game like Tom and Jerry? Perhaps Mickey Mouse would be a more appropriate comparison. If you guessed any of those characters, you'd be incorrect.


Instead, you might be surprised to learn that Mario was based on the spinach-guzzling sailor who's "strong to the finich." That's right, Popeye the Sailor was the inspiration behind the great Mario

On the surface, you may look at Mario and Popeye and you see very little resemblance, but Mario in fact owes his entire existence to the classic Fleischer Studios cartoon. This is how Popeye led to the Super Mario series.

From spinach to mushrooms

When you compare the two franchises, you begin to see overlapping themes. The basic hero, villain, and damsel-in-distress archetypes are present in both. Popeye eats spinach to gain super strength just like Mario eats mushrooms to become Super Mario. The connection, however, goes even further than that.


The very first Donkey Kong was supposed to be a Popeye game, but Nintendo was unable to procure a license to do so. Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary Mario creator, improvised by making up his own characters, and the rest was history. Had Nintendo been able to carry out Miyamoto's vision of a licensed Popeye game, Mario would have never happened.

Miyamoto's dream of making an actual Popeye arcade game did eventually come true, thanks to the success of his original characters. However, it was nowhere close to matching the popularity of Donkey Kong. With that said, next time you pop in a Mario game, you may want to eat a little spinach in Popeye's honor.