the Scarlet Pimpernel predates him, but there's no question
that Zorro really stands as the most influential of masked
adventurers. Even wise writers on Batman had to acknowledge
the debt directly; in the comics, at least, Bruce Wayne
and his parents had attended The Mark of Zorro the
night everything changed.
silent film to modern cinema, Zorro has managed to survive
every change in tastes. With the release today of Disney's
version, a two season series from 1957, you could make the
case that no matter what the era, just being Zorro makes
DVD release is nothing short of loving. Long-time Disney
fan and movie critic Leonard Maltin opens the first season
set with an enthusiastic tribute to his boyhood fandom,
and watching the episodes only makes that gushing infectious.
Tightly written with production values that raised the bar
for weekly television, Zorro still works.
stand-alone episodes that still string together in long
arcs, it seems no wonder this was once the most popular
show on television. Economically told, each episode packs
in a healthy balance of (watered down) political intrigue,
slapstick hijinks, villainy, and of course, dashing heroics
on the part of Don Diego de la Vega (Guy Williams). From
time to time, an episode will include a bit of dialogue
getting new audiences up to speed about certain elements,
but it doesn't ever grind down the storytelling.
the center is, of course, Williams. If your only exposure
to him has been through Lost In Space, this is quite
a surprise. Charismatic and bold, he portrays a nobility of
spirit that shines through both Zorro and his bookish alter-ego
of Don Diego. Underneath it, you also get a sense that he
enjoys the heck out of his double life, but that enjoyment
never gets in the way of his various crusades against injustice.
Most importantly, he never winks at the audience. In one
of the included documentaries, an actress on the series
describes Williams as showing us the best of what a person
could be, a true role model. And unlike later masked avengers,
Williams' Zorro isn't actually an avenger. He sees
injustice, and sees the opportunity to fight it. Though
it occasionally pains him to let his father think he's a
coward (though even that aspect of the character seems to
fade over time), he knows he has to do it to protect him.
Zorro has no extraordinary weapons, though he does have
a Wonder Horse.
He's just the right guy doing the right
thing at the right time. Sure, the character inspired Batman,
and loaned him a lot of his schtick, but in many ways Zorro
is the light to Batman's dark.
Though shot on the Disney back lot, it only rarely feels
stage-bound. For the most part, it also stands up because
of its setting in 1820's California - the dialogue isn't
exactly stilted, but it's constructed to make it sound of
a different time, and that still works.
The show does, however, have a somewhat paternalistic attitude
towards the native Californians that might be jarring. Yet
it's clear that in Zorro's eyes, everyone is equal, and he'll
fight injustice no matter what form it takes. Maybe it's a
black and white view, and that may also be why this got packaged
as a "Walt Disney Treasure" from the Vaults instead of getting
a major multi-media push - the show is completely shot in
black and white.
In fact, the only reason the show stopped production was
over that very issue - Walt Disney wanted to move it to
color, and ABC didn't. So they stopped and sued each other
for a couple of years. Is there something strange about
Disney now owning ABC?
But for a lower print run DVD, this "Treasure" is well
worth it. Released in two separate collections (Season 1
and Season 2), the episodes are in near pristine condition.
Now that I've begun converting to Blu-ray, it's a shame
that Disney didn't do that upgrade for this.
The collections each include an extra documentary. On
Season One, a featurette covers the history of the character,
though leaving out everything after Disney's version. (For
the record, that would be Isabel Allende's novel, Culture
Clash's play, two animated series of varying quality, George
Hamilton's Zorro the Gay Blade and of course Antonio
Banderas' two outings as the character. Wait -- I think
there's more!.) Four one hour episodes used for Disneyland
are parsed across the two collections; those four hours
would have begun season three.
This one goes on the gift guide. It's a series meant for
the whole family from a time when, mysteriously, studios
(or at least one) actually understood how to make a series
for the whole family.
Disney Treasures: Zorro - The Complete First Season