5 Reasons to Add An Animated Character to Your Live-Action Sitcom
If you were a kid the first time you saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit, think back to how hard it blew your mind. They had people and cartoons in the same scene. Surely film, as an art form, had reached its apex, and we’d be seeing cartoons interact with live-action humans routinely from now on.
As we now know, that did not occur — nor had it occurred decades earlier when Dick Van Dyke danced with animated penguins in Mary Poppins, or when Angela Lansbury was startled by an animated seahorse in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The ‘90s would bring us Cool World and Space Jam, and Enchanted was enchanting in the aughts, but animated characters and living people hardly ever mixed on screen.
This week, another title joins the annals of human/animation hybrid productions, though not a new title: The 2012 film Ted (which was followed by a sequel, Ted 2, in 2015) is getting a prequel series at Peacock. The show — like the movies — remains pretty much a total Seth MacFarlane affair, with the Family Guy creator serving as the voice of Ted, one of the show's writers and the director on all seven episodes.
2016’s Son of Zorn was another sitcom in which human characters opened their homes and hearts to an animated character — and while, admittedly, that show didn’t take off (it was canceled after 13 episodes), maybe the world just wasn’t ready for it. In my opinion, there are lots of reasons future sitcom creators should consider adding one animated character to their shows — 5 reasons, to be precise.
It Lets You Mix Tones
Son of Zorn is about a generally normal American woman named Edie (Cheryl Hines) who, in her youth, fell in love with Zorn (voice of Jason Sudeikis), a warrior from a mythical realm called Zephyrion, which has some attributes in common with Eternia, home of He-Man. Edie and Zorn had a son (Johnny Pemberton), called Alangulon by Zorn and just Alan by Edie… and her new fiancé Craig (Tim Meadows), because Edie eventually decided she and Zorn wanted different things and she returned to her generally normal American life in Orange County, California. Upon Alan’s 17th birthday — or, you know, a few weeks later — Zorn decides to take a more active role in Alan’s life, getting an apartment near Edie’s house and an office job selling soap dispensers for public restrooms.
The human characters who surround Zorn are almost aggressively normal. Craig, for example, tries to rise above Zorn’s jealous threats against him as though Zorn had always been a soap dispenser salesman and not a legendary swordsman with hundreds of kills to his name.
Half your show can be a hyper-realistic Curb Your Enthusiasm-ish deadpan comedy about recognizably banal situations; the addition of your one cartoon character can let his parts be as cartoonishly weird as your imagination will allow.
Your Cartoon Character Can Have a Look No Human Actor Could Attain
I guess I can’t say no human actor could attain Zorn’s level of jacked: Alan Ritchson exists and is currently starring in Season 2 of Reacher. But Alan Ritchsons only come along once in a generation. Plus, a human actor might be shy about spending all his scenes in nothing but furry briefs, boots and a sword (except when he’s at work, in which case he adds a short-sleeved dress shirt and tie); a drawing has no such qualms about showing off his physique.
It Gives the Prop Department a Break
As a Zephyrian, Zorn’s personal treasures fall into two categories (with some crossover): 1) supernaturally powerful items like the Stone of Sight, which attaches to Zorn’s sword and lets him see anyone anywhere; and 2) extremely brutal weapons, like the brain gouger he sent Alan for his birthday.
On a fully live-action production, there might be a question about getting the props department to fabricate something for a one-second gag. But your animators can create a brain gouger — or a gigantic mallet, like the one Edie uses to smash a neighbor’s noisy garden gnome — without buying any physical materials at all.
You Can Cast Anyone, No Matter How Busy They May Be
Scheduling guest stars can be a hassle, particularly if the ones you want are in high demand and may have a hard time fitting you into their schedule. But if you don’t need them on set and they can just knock out a voice performance in a couple of hours — possibly even at their home computer — their barrier for entry to your show might be very low. Hence the Zorn guest turns of Fred Armisen, Rob Riggle, Keegan-Michael Key, and Nick Offerman. (Olivia Wilde also appears as “Laseron,” but at the time she was probably an easier get for Sudeikis than she would be now.)
Giorgia Whigham Might Do It
In 2016, Giorgia Whigham was at the start of her career, guest-starring as Shannon, a friend of Johnny’s crush, Nancy (Alice Lee), alongside a cartoon muscleman.
Seven and a half years later, Whigham’s much further along: Now she’s a series regular on Ted playing Blaire, cousin to John Bennett (Max Burkholder), the boy who wished Ted to life — so, yes, that means Whigham’s starring alongside a CG-animated teddy bear.
If you’re a sitcom creator thinking what your department store workplace show really needs is a nine-foot-tall emu with a passion for fragrances and cosmetics, make sure there’s also a judgmental assistant floor manager for Giorgia Whigham to play.