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Disney XD’s PENN ZERO: PART TIME HERO Creators Talk Saturday Morning Cartoons

What if you discovered that your mom and dad worked as part-time heroes? And then they suddenly found themselves trapped in “The Most Dangerous World Imaginable?” And what if YOU had to take over the job of PART-TIME HERO?


This is exactly the situation young Penn Zero finds himself in. Every day, after school is over, Penn and his best friends Sashi and Boone are transported to other dimensions, where they act as heroes. Their nemesis is a part-time villain named Rippen, who wants nothing more than to make the jump to full-time villain.


I was able to meet up with creators Jared Bush (“All of Us”, Zootopia) and Sam Levine (Tarzan, Bolt), at the Disney Television offices and get a sneak peek at what the series has in store for us. Jared and Sam are hilarious and easygoing, and told us that the idea for Penn Zero was born out of the fact that while he was a teenager, Jared discovered his father didn’t have just a “government” job – he was actually working for the CIA. Meanwhile, Sam’s father was a movie projectionist in New York City, (“In the future, I should go first.” Sam says to Jared – “because CIA dad is much cooler than projectionist dad…) and thus, Sam spent time in the booth dreaming of taking part in the adventures on the screen. (He also admits that he maybe shouldn’t have seen Blade Runner at such a young age…) So hence, we have the schoolboy suddenly turned hero – albeit not all the time – who is projected into these crazy dimensions via a portal (which looks a lot like a movie projector) where he has to fight evil… or at least… part-time evil.


And in the same way Sam found himself transported into the movies on the screens where his father worked, Penn and the gang find the dimensions they’ve been zapped into bearing more than a passing resemblance to famous movie genres. Get ready for super colorful Oz-esque inspired episodes, black and white “Wonderful Life” worlds, and naturally, an 80’s world (or more.)


With so many styles and genres spread throughout the show, I had to ask the most important question of all – What were some of their favorite cartoons growing up – i.e. How did you spend your Saturday mornings as a kid?

Sam: “I was a big fan of Transformers and G.I. Joe. There was a Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, that was a huge cartoon for me – in fact, in the opening credits of that show, they go into an amusement park and they end up transporting into another world and have to get home. So that really spoke to me.”

Jared: “Bugs Bunny was huge to me. I could watch the coyote getting his butt kicked forever.”

Sam: “And of course there’s all the Disney stuff – particularly 101 Dalmations. As an animator, that film, visually is a big inspiration – that period of the 1960s and Disney design has a big influence on this show for character design and art design.”

Jared: ” I think my favorite movie growing up was Jungle Book. I just loved it so much, the music, everything. I could watch it over and over and over. Thinking about it right now – Shere Khan as a villain – Rippen has that same kind of vibe. Someone who is really in control, but can also be comedic at the same time. He’s not really a buffoon, he really does want to kill Mowgli – and Rippen wants to get Penn out of there – sometimes literally kill him, bu he’s somehow comedic at the same time.”

Sam: “I think that speaks to the way we view the show. We ground the characters in a reality and the adventure and comedy comes from that. If Rippen is a real villain, the buffoonery can come out of how he fails. But if he’s constantly silly from the beginning, you’re not going to believe anything. This show depends on going to different worlds and believing the stakes, because Penn has to win, so we felt the look and the way we handle the characters has to be absolutely real.”


Check out The Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero simulcast premiere on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13 (9:45 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD and Disney Channel, with three additional episodes premiering over the holiday weekend on Disney XD. 

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