Considering the rich ninety-year legacy of Zorro, how obnoxious it is that the makers of a cartoon upgrade decide they'd rather pilfer ideas elsewhere? "Zorro: Generation Z" is an embarrassing addition to the Zorro franchise, throwing "Star Wars" and "James Bond Jr." rip-offs at us and calling it an upgrade for the new millennium.
Actually, "Generation Z" feels decidedly last millennium - in look and tone, it could easily pass as one of the bottom-barrel action cartoons produced during the "extreme" trend of the 1990s. The writers fail to incorporate any truly modern technology into the mix, avoiding cell phones, iPods, and even the internet in favor of old-fashioned radios and "futuristic" gizmos like laser guns that look suspiciously like phasers from the classic "Star Trek" series.
But the show was produced in 2006 (even though it didn't hit the airwaves until 2008, when it debuted on British TV; it still hasn't been broadcast Stateside, and for that, we're thankful), leaving us all scratching our heads when its vision of the near-future would've been outdated fifteen years ago. Heck, the future seen in "Batman Beyond" (another of the show's obvious influences) might've been cartoonish, but that show sold it with style; all "Generation Z" bothers to do is give its bad guys ray guns instead of revolvers. (As for Zorro, he's given a fancy new electric whip that somehow straightens out to look just like Darth Maul's double-sided lightsaber. Really.)
And you'd think this being a multicultural new century and all, they'd bother playing up the Mexican angle more. But aside from the grandfatherly Don Diego de la Luna - the original Zorro, now aged in this future - looking and sounding like Ricardo Mantalban, only the bad guys are given an ethnic look and sound; worse, the vocal "sound" only has two notes: Rich Corinthian Leather and We Don't Need No Steenking Badges. Ay, carumba.
Zorro himself is the grandson of the original, and he's presented here with all the Latin flavor of a Willie Aames, or perhaps a Chris Makepeace. I'm not sure how the decision was made to plaster the series with rich south-of-the-border music (including a catchy, crunchy rock-mariachi theme song), then restrain the character design to the point of racial androgyny. Were the producers afraid kids wouldn't take to a more ethnic leading man? Or were they just going by some fifteen-year-old character design sheet that says all cartoon heroes have to be limp, generic, and look exactly alike?
The story finds young Diego eager to follow in his grandfather's footsteps, even if his father thinks Diego is a fool and Zorro is a myth. I'm not sure how dad could've ever missed the mammoth Zorro-cave attached to the house (the three-story stained glass windows don't give it away?), but there you go: episode after episode, Diego rescues his father, and his father, unaware of his son's crimefighting ways, calls Zorro a jerk and Diego a lazy brat.
Granted, nobody on this show is bright in the least. Zorro's sometimes ally, sometimes rival, a costumed hero calling herself the Scarlet Whip, is secretly the corrupt mayor's daughter, although it can't be too much a secret considering her entire disguise consists of pink sunglasses - and the mayor never catches on. He's too busy scheming to kill Zorro, I guess. Doesn't have to work hard, though; another trait of Zorro and the Scarlet Whip is that they're both completely incompetent, repeatedly losing key evidence, getting the crap kicked out of them, or bickering to the point f boredom. (Yes, the pilot two-parter includes a scene where the heroes argue and everyone else just stands around instead of escaping.)
The action is clumsy, the animation cheap, and even a rare good idea - like a potentially creepy design for a villain with a gas mask for a face - ultimately gets undone with bad execution. "Generation Z" tosses us everything we hated about (non-WB) action cartoons in the 90s: bad jokes, lame villains, watered-down adventure, and a smattering of "extreme" sports - in this case, Diego is a motorcross champion. Extreme!
Image Entertainment has collected the series' first six episodes in a one-disc set titled "Zorro: Generation Z - Volume One."
The episodes included here are presented in original production order: "A New Generation, Part 1," "A New Generation, Part 2," "The Fearsome Four," "Sins of the Father," "Mayor for a Day," and "Wanted: Part-Time Hero."
Video & Audio
There's some noticeable interlacing issues in this 1.33:1 full frame, at least on two sets I tried. (A third set was better at smoothing out the problems.) Colors are sharp, though, if not entirely crisp.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack sounds fine enough, at least for matching what I'd take to be a broadcast sound. It's clear, but unimpressive; more could've been done with the rockin' theme tune. A decent Spanish 2.0 dub is included. No subtitles are provided.
"Generation Z" is bad enough on its own. The mediocre presentation doesn't help. And having its first season broken up into a series of small no-frills collections like this, there's just no question about it: Skip It.