Executive Producers: Bill Anderson, Walt Disney
Starring: Guy Williams, Gene Sheldon, George J. Lewis, Henry Calvin
More often than not when I get a chance to watch TV shows or movies I loved as a child I end up disappointed. Either I’ve gotten a lot pickier over the years or I just had horrible taste as a child. That makes it all the more special when I come across something as good or even better than I remember. Walt Disney’s version of Zorro is one of those special occasions. It is a real treat to watch these episodes back to back and uninterrupted by commercials.
Diego De La Vega is returning home to Spanish California. He is cutting short his studies in Spain after receiving a disturbing letter from his father. During the trip he learns that Los Angeles is in the grip of a corrupt Commandante, Capitan Monastario. Suddenly the letters from his father make sense. Diego reasons out quickly that once he has returned his father will try to openly oppose Capitain Monastario which would only lead to an open revolt that the oppressed landowners and peons could only lose. Diego figures that a more subtle solution is called for. In is cabin with the help of his manservant Bernardo he quickly improvises a disguise. A black shirt and pants, a black cape and hat and to finish the disguise a black mask. Zorro, the fox, is born. To draw suspicion away from the De La Vega household Diego tosses all of his fathers letters, fencing medals and trophies overboard. He will take on the persona of a scholar and musician. Someone more interested in poetry and guitars than rapiers and bull whips. Bernardo his mute manservant even gets into the act coming up with the idea that he will pretend to be deaf as well as mute in the hopes that he can act as a spy for Zorro.
Luckily for Diego the De La Vega hacienda contains many secret passages, including one that leads to a cave with an obscured entrance that is away from the hacienda. Diego learned of the passageway from his grandfather, they were built into the house to allow the family to escape in the case of an Indian attack but that has been such a remote possibility for so long that Diego is doubtful that his own father is aware of them. Diego also has a horse that was just a colt when he left for Spain that he left in the keeping of a local family. The colt has grown into a magnificent beast, probably the fastest horse in California, the perfect steed for Zorro. All of this information is presented as Zorro breaks a landowner out of prison that Capitan Monastario has falsely accused of treason in order to confiscate his land for himself. Quite a bit of storytelling to pull off in one twenty five minute episode. Over the next twelve episodes Monastario and Zorro battle. It’s not to hard to guess who eventually prevails. One of the measures of a hero is the enemies he goes up against. Monastario is certainly a thorn in the side of Los Angeles but he is vain and not terribly intelligent. Zorro’s enemies get more dangerous and capable over the next couple of story arcs. Zorro progresses from being a local hero to the savior of all California by the last episode of the season.
The second season story arcs are more personal. Zorro only ends up saving California a couple of times. The rest of the three or four episode story arcs deal with Zorro helping out strangers in trouble or even just dealing with annoying Uncles visiting from Spain. That’s not to say they are any less entertaining but they do feel more like TV show episodes where the first season almost feels like two high quality serials. One way that the second season is superior to the first is the guest stars. Beside the main players the only other face I found recognizable in the first season is Jack Elam, the second season I spotted Lee Van Cleef, Richard Anderson, Cesar Romero, Ricardo Montalban, Jonathan Harris, Robert Vaughn, and Annette Funicello. Along with all Disney products, especially from this era, Zorro is simply a great product. The casting, acting, writing, direction are all spot on. I know it sounds cliché but in this case it is perfectly true Zorro is wholesome entertainment for the whole family.
The video is presented in the original full screen aspect ratio. It is in beautiful black and white. One advantage to black and white is that there is no worry about blooming. I didn’t notice any aliasing or moire either. In fact the only problem I could find with the video were defects coming from the original print. Most of the exterior night shots are obviously shot day for night and look just a little off. Especially when you have Zorro dressed all in black racing across a dark roof the shadows just look a little off, this is a minor quibble though and frankly I feel a little silly even bringing it up.
The audio is presented in the original mono with English subtitles. There is no distortion or other problems with the audio. In fact the only problem with the audio is what’s missing. I would have expected more than just English audio and more subtitles, perhaps Disney simply issues different editions of the DVD collections instead of lumping several language audio tracks and different subtitles on the same discs.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
These DVD collections make me wish I was a bigger fan of Disney productions. The first and second seasons are sold separately. They each come in a attractive black tin. Inside of the tin is a single width Amaray style case that holds all six DVDs in the set. Along with the DVDs there is a collectible Zorro pin, a production still, a small booklet about the Zorro show that includes the Contents of the six DVDs in each collection, and a numbered Certificate of Authenticity. The first disc of each season includes a introduction from Leonard Maltin while the sixth disc of each set includes bonus materials. Between the two season collections are all four of the Walt Disney Presents appearances of Zorro along with a couple of featurettes, one covering Zorro and one about Guy Williams.
Both seasons and the four Walt Disney Presents appearances of Zorro adds up to nearly forty hours of high quality TV. This is material that can be watched over and over so on a cost per minute basis theses collections are a steal.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 9/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10