Mixing animation with live-action, the bombastic with the banal, "Son of Zorn," getting a post-football preview Sunday on Fox before its official premiere Sept. 25, is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" with swords and dismemberment. Or the scene in "Ancors Aweigh" where Jerry the Mouse dances with Gene Kelly … with swords and dismemberment.
Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is a muscular barbarian in the Thundarr/Conan mode who comes to California from the "island nation of Zephyria" — a cartoon kingdom rendered in 1980s Saturday-morning style — to celebrate the 17th birthday of his non-animated son, Alan (Johnny Pemberton), given name Alangulon. A title card in the old Hanna-Barbera style introduces the pilot, "Return to Orange County."
"Did you get bangs?" asks his ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hines), greeting him at her door.
"I'm still getting used to them," says Zorn. “They just started to cover a forehead wound, and then I was like, what the hell, it's summer."
Edie, who has cut Zorn from their old family photos, has a new fiancé, Craig, played by Tim Meadows in what film theoreticians and anyone who has seen five old screwball comedies will recognize as the Ralph Bellamy role, a character designed to pale in comparison to the hero. (Craig will stick around, probably, some nominal obstacle needed between Zorn and Edie, whom Zorn notices noticing his quadriceps — he is mostly naked.)
Without conviction, Edie describes her current "fun life”: "We have an avocado tree," she tells Zorn, who reminds her of their wild old days, including a "fivesome with mountain trolls."
"That was the old me," she replies and goes to make hummus.
This mash-up of clashing worlds and ways, folding the extraordinary into the everyday — Zorn has a sword, but he also has a cellphone — is, to be sure, something of a formula. You can sum it up in the phrase "Superman does his laundry." But it's a good formula — or one I find reliably delightful, at least — the theoretical foundation of the Adult Swim, running back to "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" and "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law," whose aesthetic "Son of Zorn" borrows, while leaving out most of the anomie, despair and disgust. It’s realized here with dry, casual aplomb that underscores the weirdness and intensifies the humor.
Convinced by Edie that he has to move to California for Alan’s good and his own, Zorn applies for a straight job, selling "industrial level soap dispensers.” ("I managed a whole team of mutilators," he notes hopefully in his interview, "by myself.") He believes his new boss, played by Artemis Pebdani, because she is his superior, is a man.
As created by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote and directed "The Lego Movie," it is sweet and aspirational and heartfelt, though not so sweet or aspirational or heartfelt as to smother its baser urges. Zorn may miss the battlefields of Zephyria, but he wants more to connect with his son, who — though they find each other mutually disappointing, too barbaric for one, insufficiently barbaric for the other — also wants to connect with him.
It’s an old story in a new loincloth. But it works.
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‘Son of Zorn’
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)
Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles TimesCheryl Hines Jason Sudeikis