How Fox's 'Son Of Zorn' Is And Is Not Like 'Roger Rabbit' [TCA 2016]

Zorn himself made a surprise appearance at the Television Critics Association panel for Son of Zorn, the new comedy from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Zorn is an animated character voiced by Jason Sudeikis, a barbarian warrior from the island of Zephyria who returns to the States to spend more time with his son Alan (Johnny Pemberton). Since the animated Zorn could not appear on stage, he called in with a cell phone video comparing critics to warriors like himself.

"Sure I defend Zephyria, but you guys defend the American public from accidentally tuning into a dumpster fire like Blood and Oil or Wicked City," Zorn said. 

Lord and Miller were also unavailable due to their production on the Han Solo movie, but co-creator/executive producer Reed Agnew and executive producers Eric Appel and Sally Bradford McKenna explained the intricacies of the show. The real world reacts to Zorn like an animated character is commonplace.

"We never wanted to call him a cartoon," Agnew said. "Like Roger Rabbit, they were cartoons. When he walks into Applebee's with no shirt and a sword, no one's like, 'Whoa, you're a cartoon.' They're like, 'You need to put on a shirt.'"

Where Son of Zorn does want to emulate Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is in the precision of combining live-action and animation.

"It's almost like Roger Rabbit too, which I think is the high-water mark of combining live action and animation," Appel said. "In that movie, you buy into the fact that in this world, Toon Town exists. Everyone in Hollywood has an awareness that cartoon characters are just actors. I think the audience can take that leap."

Zephyria is Son of Zorn's Toon Town. It was a creative decision to make Zephyria a place on Earth, not an alternate dimension or other such explanation.

"Zephyria exists on Earth," Appel said. "It's an island, all fantasy warrior barbarian island. It's almost like the world of Harry Potter. It's the real world, but in it there exists this world of wizards. Some people are aware of it. The world of Zephyria, the set of rules that world has is the set of rules a cartoon of that genre would have. People don't treat it that it's crazy because they know this place exists. You can do that crazy cartoony stuff, but you're aware your characters are reacting to it in a grounded way."

In the pilot, Zorn clashes with the suburban and corporate world, often drawing his sword and chopping things up. Yet the goal is to turn this literal caricature into a genuine character.

"It was very important tonally when you have this crazy hyper-real character, he's a character," Agnew said. "He's a person. When he's sad, you feel sad for him. He's got these flaws. It's not like a skit where he says 'I killed the beast.' We liked Jason Sudeikis so much because he was just like a guy talking. He's a person, he's relatable. We give him tropes that are hopefully relatable to us. We can see ourselves in Zorn hopefully. I think the things we deal with are human interactions, growing as a person, becoming a better father, forgiving your enemies, stuff like that. We do it in a silly, stupid way."

McKenna added that one episode involves Alan coming to terms with his Zephyrian culture. In the pilot, Zorn gives up his hero job to be closer to Alan, but the only job he can get is in an office.

"When you think of someone like Zorn, who's just fighting monsters and living this glorious life back in Zephyria where he probably has 50-foot sculptures built in his honor, the cubicle is just the most mundane thing," Agnew added. "Cubicle, florescent lights, shitty job, you gotta pay the rent. Now the hero is some 5'5 fat guy who made more sales that month. I think it's about Zorn navigating the world of banal American suburban lameness. He comes from a world where every day there's a battle and monsters to be slain. Now he can't figure out how to work a vending machine. These are the battles he's fighting now."

The other side of Son of Zorn is the family comedy. "[Zorn deals with] how to integrate himself with the family," McKenna said. "He has an ex-wife who still has feelings, they're working through their feelings. Helping his son with girl problems, problems at school. It's an inappropriate narcissist dad who's coming in to fit in with his family again. Being animated is more of a side note."

Son of Zorn premieres Sunday, September 25 on Fox.