A&E // 1990 // 2024 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // February 20th, 2011
The legend begins.
Having begun as a pulp novel hero in the early 1900s, the character of Zorro has been through multiple incarnations, from a silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks to a string of serials in the '30s to animated versions, Spanish telenovelas, and, of course, the '90s films starring Antonio Banderas. In 1990, the Family Channel aired Zorro, a weekly series that was meant to reintroduce the character to a new generation. Unfortunately, that new generation was clearly meant to be in grade school, since this version of Zorro is so corny and silly that it could only really entertain the very, very, very young.
Don Diego de la Vega (Duncan Regehr, The Monster Squad) is a foppish, studious nobleman in Los Angeles in the early 1800s who lives with his indulgent father Don Alejandro (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., The F.B.I.). He also secretly masquerades as Zorro (the Fox), a masked adventurer who protects the town's citizens from the excesses of the corrupt mayor or Alcalde (Michael Tylo, The Bold and the Beautiful). Along with his mute assistant Felipe (Juan Digeo Botto, 1492: Conquest of Paradise), Diego uses science and swordplay to battle the Alcalde and his bumbling assistant Sergeant Mendoza (James Victor, Stand and Deliver) while protecting the beautiful tavern owner Victoria (Patrice Martinez, The Three Amigos). This fifteen-disc set compiles all four seasons of the series.
Zorro is a live-action kids' show. Within those narrow parameters, it's at least mildly agreeable. You should not, however, expect anything remotely deep, complex, or memorable. The acting is one-dimensional, the characters are cardboard cutouts, the dialogue is forgettable, the action scenes and special effects are amateurish, and the stories are silly. It's not entirely without merit, but only if you're really, really, undiscriminating.
In some ways, this is clearly intended as an homage to the old Zorro serials. The episodes clock in at a meager 20 minutes (or 30 with lots of commercials), the sword fights are pitifully short, and the plots are simple enough that, with a couple of exceptions, they are easily resolved and forgotten by the next episode. Like those old serials, it's geared toward the young with short attention spans, especially since there's virtually nothing in these episodes that's truly disturbing or weighty. Just like those old serials, kids can thrill to the bloodless action scenes and turn their heads during the icky (but chaste) kisses Zorro delivers to Victoria. Also just like those old serials, any viewers past adolescence will be rolling their eyes at how juvenile the whole thing is.
Similarly, the performances are what you would expect from a kid's show: hammy and broad. Zorro preens and mugs, the Alcalde all but twirls his mustache, Sergeant Mendoza is a bumbling dolt who loves food, and so on. These are not subtle characterizations, and the actors give them the respect they deserve. The dialogue isn't particularly dazzling either -- it's simplistic at best -- so there's little opportunity for the cast to display any acting nuances. It's too bad; all of the cast members are reasonably appealing, in a bland, TV-friendly sort of way, but none are given any chance to really stand out. By the third season, the series had replaced both the Alcalde and Don Alejandro, and it's a sign of how one-dimensional the characters are that the new actors make absolutely no difference whatsoever. It just confirms how unsophisticated this version of Zorro is.
As for the DVD specs, they're variable. The full-screen transfer shows its age in several spots. It's rather fuzzy and the colors tend to bleed into a dull yellow or beige. You'll also see some scratches and dirt here and there, although that's not as prevalent. The Dolby stereo mix is adequate, if a bit quiet at times. The set's extras are all included on the last disc. The most notable is the alternate pilot for the series. It includes some different cast members and, more importantly, a darker and more complex sensibility. Though the video quality is awful, it's worth seeing because it shows how Zorro could have been a much more intriguing show had it followed the example set by this pilot rather than softened up its rough edges. Also included are the silent film The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, an episode and some trailers for the old Zorro serials, and a photo gallery for the series.
There are moments when it's possible to see how Zorro could have been more than just a silly kids' show. The two-part episode "The Devil's Fortress," which concludes the second season, is surprisingly dour by this show's standards. In it, Victoria's father is locked in a dangerous prison, and she and Zorro journey to get him released, followed by the Alcalde for purely selfish reasons. It's still burdened with some fairly clumsy action scenes and inane dialogue, but there are some surprising plot twists and even deaths that may come as fairly surprising. This is still a long way from the likes of The Wire, but it's still a bit dark for this series. Mostly, though, Zorro is as shallow as Baywatch and even less realistic.
Preteen viewers might find this version of Zorro diverting, unless they merely dismiss it as silly. If you're older than twelve, however, you don't need this set unless you obsessively collect everything with the name Zorro on it. It's simply too expensive and unwieldy to spend too much money on if you're only mildly curious. You would do better to find other versions of this story, particularly the old serials or even the Antonio Banderas films. Those are far superior tellings of the story than this series, which is just too hackneyed and juvenile to be worth much.
Guilty of being nothing more than a mediocre kids' show.
Review content copyright © 2011 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 2024 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Films
* Photo Gallery