Sunday, November 28, 2010

Zorro Generation Z - A New Generation

Sure Dino Squad's worthy of all the mockery one has to unload, but the company that owns it does have a catalogue containing some quality children’s entertainment. But then there’s…BKN. They’re a company who’ve been around in one form or another since at least the early 90’s as a third party distributor despite consistently picking up some of the cheapest, lamest cartoons around (at least, they were when this review was first written. A few months later it appeared they finally went under and their homepage disappeared). Gunk like that lame Kong cartoon released to compete with the surprisingly enjoyable cartoon based on the lame Tristar Godzilla, that cartoon that’s mostly Mad Max with a little Highlander mixed in, and Legend of the Dragon, recipient of the most generic title of all time. Their only show I’ve ever liked in an unironic manner was King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, and I’d be hard-pressed to actually tell you why.

One particularly loathsome piece of their output was Zorro Generation Z, a cartoon taking a classic hero and giving him a futuristic coat of paint. Hey, it worked for Batman and the Phantom, didn’t it?

Just so you know that’s not sarcasm. Batman Beyond and Phantom 2040 are both very entertaining shows, even taking the Peter Chung artwork of the latter into account.

If you have to tell us how cool things are, they're not.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the character, Zorro was the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, a nobleman in Spanish Colonial California who donned a mask to battle corrupt officials. After upbraiding the forces of injustice he’d always carve a Z into something with his sword before riding off on his trusty steed Tornado. Possibly the most well-known version is the old Guy Williams TV show, with Bernado the comical mute confidant and Sgt. Garcia the comical pudgy right hand man of the real bad guy. If nothing else, that’s the one the guys who made this show seemed to be working from.

And you may have heard that the movie a young Bruce Wayne saw the night his parents were blown away was The Mark of Zorro.

 The pilot opens in a sepia-toned flashback where all seven and a half years of Diego de la Vega is being told a secret by his grandfather when father Alejandro comes in and lightly remonstrates granddad for filling the boy’s head with wild stories.

The secret is…being Zorro's a family tradition.

Jump ahead to 2015, when Diego’s a strapping young man who enjoys a bit of motocross. What he doesn’t enjoy is his dashboard bleeping “EMERGENCY” and forcing him to pull over and find out from his mute bro (as in best friend) Bernardo that his father’s gone missing.

And…theme song! From this we learn some valuable information, like our hero’s “avenging evil’s dare,” “his engines light the sky, prepared to fight or die,” and he catches pink-haired women who fall out of buildings.

Instead of a sword he’s got a “Darth Maul”-type lightsaber (Their words, straight from the writer's bible [I didn't steal this. Anyone who wanted to could download this from BKN's website when it was still up]. It doesn’t appear to be the final version, though) that doubles as some kind of lightsaber whip.

Back to the show, we meet our bad guy, Mayor Martinez. He’s your standard TV politician who’s not just corrupt, he’s a flat-out supervillain. Which is weird because the same guy who does his voice also does the previous Zorros whenever we see one. It’s weird listening to them giving Diego advice in flashbacks or spirit visions when they sound just like the head bad guy.

Vote Martinez '06!
“Tell me, Senor,” he asks of a strung-out-looking guy with a hook for a hand, telling us this is going to be one of those shows that uses Superfriends Spanish. That is, to come off as all ethnic they pepper the dialogue with foreign words, but only the kind everyone regardless of background knows (amigo, andale, burrito, etc.).

Strung-out hook guy is Don Itchy (Don being the title of any criminal who actually does work in this show), who the mayor forces to read a newspaper headline about Alejandro’s disappearance, namely that foul play is suspected, and the suspect is Martinez. The plan was for Itchy (Itchy?) to make it seem like he’d been exposed as a criminal and went on the run. Itchy protests Alejandro’s too popular with the common man, and they’d never listen to him that the guy was a criminal. Itchy’s anything but a reputable criminal (he stabs himself with his own hook a couple times during the conversation. How long has he had that thing?), but he’s smarter than his boss. Who would take his word for anything, and who would expect that anyone would? Martinez threatens him to try harder.

Cut to the basement where Alejandro’s out cold in a broom closet. Guess they needed to establish that the mayor actually was responsible for his disappearance, but given this is a superhero show and there’s no doubt Martinez is the bad guy…not really.

Since the de la Vega estate is crawling with the mayor’s thugs, Diego and Bernardo sneak in through a secret passage that lets out into a manhole cover in the estate’s huge front lawn. The secret of their entrance immediately goes to hell when Bernardo falls down and the goons immediately try to kill them with lasers.

As they run across the yard dodging the henchmen’s fire Bernardo does these gymnastics moves, which is a little strange since Diego had to tackle him out of the way of the opening salvo. Which Bernardo totally saw coming.

They manage to get to the roof but are blown off by a guy with some kind of sniper rifle/laser bazooka and fall through a skylight, surviving their gigantic fall (through glass) unharmed because they landed on a rug.

The goons find them and try to kick them out, saying the mayor’s seized the property. Right after trying to gun them down, and the one attempting the non-lethal solution is the one who tried to shoot them off the roof. Bernado tazes the guy holding him, and it turns out his little stun gun works great as a missile launcher too as he shoots it at the ceiling. This squashes the guy trying to get them off the property without killing them with a chandelier and the rest with random roof debris. Is that any way to thank someone for trying to save your life?

The boys escape by opening a secret passage. This they do by pushing the first button on a panel hidden behind some books. It looks like it should be a code lock, so why isn’t it?

No one will ever penetrate this airtight security system!
Then again why is it so easy to open considering what the boys find on the other side? Which is the Fox Den, Zorro’s Batcave. At least they don’t make us wait for it and Diego decides the city could use a new hero right away.

As the henchmen flee for some reason we find out the bad guys in this show are like the ones in Guyver, because they melt into nothing when they die. Where’s the guy who got hit with the chandelier?

Back at the broom closet Mayor Martinez comes in, revealing both his involvement and his plan to make it seem like Alejandro, who’s running against him, was using campaign money for his own decadent lifestyle. With the trouble Diego gave to his boys at the mansion, Martinez is moving Alejandro a cell in his own office because that, he thinks, will be safer. “Diego has nothing to do with this!” Alejandro protests as he’s dragged away. “I swear if you harm him, you’ll never be rid of me!”

Come oooooon, man! I'm trying to threaten you back here!
At the Fox Den (nobody on the outside wonders what’s on the other side of that big stained glass window in the wall?), Bernardo is putting the finishing touches on some kind of Z-shaped gadget that will probably do something garish and stupid and supposedly cool. He tries to wake up Diego to show it to him, but Diego tells him to go away to show his slackerness despite his heroic aspirations, or something.

Seriously, what's the story?
 Turns out this thing is the lightsaber/whip thing we saw from the theme song. When Diego tries it out he slices a computer in half, sheepishly remarking he needs some practice. And we see a part of the room we didn’t before that has gigantic comic booky computers and a souped-up custom motorcycle (the Tornado-Z).

Alejandro somehow doesn't know all this is in his house?
Based on some kind of intel Bernardo’s come up with, they decide to break into city hall. What intel?

We see Martinez at a press conference in the next scene where some reporters bring up beliefs that Martinez is behind his rival’s disappearance. To which Martinez menacingly answers “people who spread such vicious lies should be very, very careful.” And he thinks having his daughter and police liason vouch that he was in his office all night proves he had no involvement in Alejandro’s disappearance (a belief the writers thankfully don’t share, as the reporter who brought up the accusations points out he could’ve had henchmen do it). No wonder he has to kidnap the other candidates to get reelected.

I am NOT an evil mastermind! How dare you suggest I am!
Also at the conference, the bumbling, slobby Sgt. Garcia who for some reason is Martinez’s right-hand-man tells Martinez’s daughter, Maria, to just sit there and look pretty. And yet the show apparently wants us to think of him as a mostly sympathetic character who has a bad boss. Stalking away from the podium Martinez tells Garcia to call Don Itchy because it’s time to take care of Alejandro “permanently.”

What is this show trying to say? That the Zorro of the future is the latest in a long line of Zorros, and that he also has a Bernardo and a Sgt. Garcia in his supporting cast, just like the old version? That’s kind of a stretch. And before you balk that I’m assuming too much, that’s exactly what the show says. There’s an episode later where the current Zorro goes back in time and meets the original Zorro. And the original Sgt. Garcia.

Or maybe it was just head trauma.

Diego Zorros up for the first time, and with this show’s first intonation of “Andale Tornado! We ride!” he mounts his super-bike blasts into the night to the strains (and to borrow a phrase, that’s exactly the right word) of his theme song. By the way, the “Andale, Tornado! We ride!” thing is another thing borrowed from classic Zorro. Where Tornado was a horse. The bike isn’t alive like KITT, so what gives? Are they counting on kids to have seen the Guy Williams Zorro?

After arriving at city hall Zorro has Bernardo download the blueprints to find the best way into the mayor’s office, but the results are basically “climb straight up the outside.” Which he does by using his laser whip to wrap around handy extending ledges. Then inside of five seconds Bernardo disarms security for the entire building from his desktop.

Swinging in through the window and finding the panel that opens his father’s cell behind a painting, Zorro blasts it open and this opens the door too. Isn’t there something about control panels that act like that on the Evil Overlord List?

You can bet the doors on MY secret prison cells don't open when you shoot the security panel.
Alejandro tells him to get back to the funny farm, seeming to prefer being found dead in a river a few weeks later, but Zorro cuts his cynical dad a way out.

This is the path of his cut...
...and this is the hole it makes?
Martinez and some of his goons arrive, and despite asking for Don Itchy by name the guy’s nowhere to be seen.

They try to blow Zorro and his dad to kingdom come, but their dustbusters are no match for Zorro’s…cape? In one afternoon Bernardo managed to put together the laser whip, the Tornado-Z and invent a laser-proof cape? Dang.

And signature shoes, too.
Zorro handily pounds the henchmen (love how they use the sound of bare hands smacking together when he dusts his off despite wearing gloves) before carving his calling card into the mayor’s butt. Seriously. You can be forgiven for not knowing but it’s usually the mark of a bad show when the villain decay starts in the debut episode.

Martinez covers all the exits with electrified force fields so that while Zorro got in and saved Alejandro, what good will it do him if he can’t get back out?

So the guy walks into a bar, he says "ouch."
Just when all seems lost another masked freak appears, this one a shapely redhead with two laser whips of her own. Nobody else uses laser whips but these two, so where do you get them?

Zorro can’t wait to see what happens next, but lucky for us, we’ll have to.

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