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Mace & Crown | June 24, 2017

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Fox’s 'Son of Zorn': Mixing Live-Action and Animation, The Zephyrian Way

Fox’s ‘Son of Zorn’: Mixing Live-Action and Animation, The Zephyrian Way
George Plank
Staff Writer

At first glance, it’s understandable how Fox’s new quasi-animated show, “Son of Zorn,” could be immediately compared to “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This new show uses a combination of live-action and animation to deliver a comedy that refuses to be subdued. So, what exactly is “Son of Zorn?” Is it a cartoon, or is it a live-action and family-based comedy?

Zorn, a massive barbarian character, is the defender of the land of Zephyria — an animated island where, in the “He-Man” tradition, hulking muscle-bound characters fight the forces of evil daily. Zorn is called away from his life of fighting to visit his teenaged son for his birthday. When his son seems distant and actively shows no interest in his Zephyrian heritage, Zorn decides he should be in his son’s life.

The series and its protagonist is a send up to the animation of the ’80s, particularly “He-Man.” The main source of the show’s humor is a “fish out of water” type plot, shown by Zorn attempting to assimilate to the technologically advanced, non-animated world. The use of an animated character allows the show to get away with many visual gags that a strictly live-action show could not.

During the first episode, Zorn attempts to give his son a new ride in an attempt to bond with him. The new ride, however, was in the form of a giant battle falcon. The show intermingles animated Zephyrian objects and a live-action environment in a natural way. The mixing of styles doesn’t, at any point, feel distracting from the narrative at all.

However, the show isn’t just all laughs. “Son of Zorn” devotes just as much time to heartfelt morals about the importance of family and togetherness as it does to the hijinks of Zorn. Its message of maintaining one’s identity while trying to assimilate into another culture often feels like something that was taken directly from the script book of ABC’s “Blackish.” In many ways, the show feels like a sitcom from the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, sans the laugh track.

The parallels to “He-Man” don’t end on a purely superficial level. “He-Man” used a technique called rotoscope. Using this technique, someone would be filmed and then the film would be drawn over to create fluid and lifelike animation.

In a similar vein, “Son of Zorn” uses a stand-in during all the live-action sequences so that the animators have a frame of reference for their work. This effect sometimes causes the animation to be less fluid than traditional animation, but it’s still cleaner than the quasi-animated segments on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

So, what is in the future for Fox’s new hybrid series? It has the potential to go on for several more seasons, assuming it picks up enough of a following. It’s charming, heartfelt and has the right amount of humor injected into every episode to keep the viewers engaged. It may not have the immediate appeal of “The Simpsons” or “Bob’s Burgers,” but the humor is witty and always fitting to the situation.

The show’s use of campy humor with heartfelt morals is sure to create a following from both nostalgics and newcomers alike. For “He-Man” fans, if only to see what references they make in future episodes, it’s definitely worth the weekly watch. Don’t be surprised if, by the season finale, they introduce an eccentric skeleton character.