Invader Zim is As Good As You Remember It

By: Talya Stehley  |  September 19, 2019
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By Talya Stehley, Staff Writer

The wait is over. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus premiered on Netflix this past August, and spoiler alert: it’s really good. The movie is a continuation of Invader Zim, a cartoon that first aired in 2001 and was cancelled in 2002, and acquired a substantial cult following by pushing the boundaries of what a kids show could do. Fans have been clamoring for more for close to two decades, but surely a continuation so long delayed to something so well loved must feel at least a little awkward, right?

         Wrong. Enter the Florpus starts by easing the audience back in with a summary of Invader Zim’s premise: Zim is a little green man from outer space, bent on world domination. He is opposed by Dib, a schoolboy with dreams of becoming a well-known paranormal investigator. This little recap is narrated by Dib and presented in a dramatic anime style, reminiscent of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It serves the purpose of getting the newcomers up to speed, and it’s also hilarious. We then return from Dib’s appraisal of the situation to his reality, presented in the movie’s regular art style. The movie looks similar to, though not exactly the same, as the original cartoon. Most of the differences are things you’d only notice if you put it side by side with the original cartoon–colors are flatter, the sky is blue instead of the usual menacing red, and the character designs are slightly rounder and cuter, in addition the being dressed differently from their TV counterparts. Also unlike the show, the movie is in widescreen and HD.

         The first thing we see in this new style is a conversation at the dinner table between Gaz, Dib’s sister, and Professor Membrane, his dad. Professor Membrane wants Gaz to go get Dib, who has been monitoring Zim’s home, and hasn’t moved since Zim disappeared an unspecified long time ago. He looks pretty grotesque, flies buzzing around him and fused to his chair. Gaz won’t get anywhere near him without a hazmat suit on. In Gaz’s conversation with Professor Membrane, he expresses the belief that Dib just needs time to get over his belief in the paranormal and move on to real science. He compares Dib’s current struggle with a time in his own youth when his arms were ripped off by sharks, a detail that becomes important later on. In Gaz’s subsequent conversation with Dib, we see that he mentions desire for his father’s approval as a major reason why he needs to prove that Zim is an alien, setting up Dib’s main motivation and character arc in this movie. The movie has a solid understanding of setup and payoff and knows it, to the point that one of its funniest gags consists of a narrator (who never appears outside of this isolated joke) completely unnecessarily pointing out a small detail, then pointing it out again when it is minorly helpful during the movie’s final battle. It’s the perfect example of Invader Zim’s brand of clever stupidity.

         It turns out that during his long in-universe absence, Zim’s been doing absolutely nothing, which apparently was phase one of his big plan. This absence is a clever way for the movie to acknowledge the long gap between the show and the movie without needing to break the fourth wall. He claims this was phase one of his great plan, before immediately forgetting what phase two was supposed to consist of. While trying to deal with that, we are informed (or reminded) that Zim’s superiors, the Almighty Tallest, openly hate him. The first episode of the cartoon establishes a delightful piece of worldbuilding, that Earth (or “Urth” as Zim’s computer spells it) is a planet of absolutely no importance to their conquest plans, and the Tallest only sent Zim there to get rid of him. Zim only learns of this fact now, and when Dib comes to stop his plan, he finds him immobile in a “cheesy cocoon of misery.”

         Zim’s will to conquer isn’t completely gone though, as Dib finds out when he tries to expose Zim to the world during Professor Membrane’s press conference. Zim gains the upper hand, kidnapping Professor Membrane and replacing him with a clone and taking his place. He then proceeds to modify Professor Membrane’s product, originally built to bring world peace, to move the Earth into the Almighty Tallests’ invasion path. This does something nasty to the fabric of reality, creating the titular Florpus, essentially a breach in the hull of the universe.

         Many of the original Invader Zim‘s plots relied on the essential similarity between Zim and Dib, but Enter the Florpus draws these similarities into sharper focus. While their goals in the show were more societal, Zim focusing more directly on his conquest of the Earth, while Dib was more concerned with fame (and saving the world) than with his father’s opinion, Enter the Florpus distills both characters’ motivations into a primary authority figure that they wish to impress. And this essential similarity between hero and villain is what makes Dib’s victory in the end so satisfying. In the end, Enter the Florpus is a movie about family. Dib only succeeds with the help of his family (which now includes that clone of Professor Membrane), while Zim’s attempts to be seen by his leaders only leads to their destruction. This constitutes the most major difference between the show and the movie, this greater level of emotional depth and sensitivity. Don’t get me wrong, Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus is just as noisy, dark, and cynical and the original show, and it still has that absurd sense of humor and pointed satire of consumer culture. But this movie is decidedly less misanthropic, holding its central characters in less contempt than the show did. The more emotional beats are predictable, but effective. They’re what hold the movie together. It’s a welcome change from the original series.

         Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus does exactly what a revival movie should. It adapts to the changing times while reminding us what made the original cartoon special in the first place. What it doesn’t do, however, is feel like a conclusion. In true cartoon form, Enter the Florpus ends with the status quo mostly the same as it was, at least for the main characters on Earth. Even if it hadn’t, an episode of the original cartoon ended with Zim stranded in Mexico with no idea how to get home, and another ended with Zim and Dib irreversibly transformed into bolognas. This means that even someone who didn’t watch the original series can enjoy Enter the Florpus. (That said, if you want to check it out, the TV show is available on Hulu. I think it’s aged well, but I’m biased.) Still, if you didn’t like Invader Zim, you probably won’t like Enter the Florpus. There was exactly one quiet moment in the entire movie, while the vast majority of the runtime is spent talking, yelling, or fighting. It’s possible that some adults may find this movie too noisy for their tastes, but I’m not one of them.

         It’s also worth noting that the first fifteen minutes or so of Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus are lifted nearly word-for-word from the first issue of the Invader Zim comic book, released in 2015. It’s astounding how much better these scenes work in animation, and it’s mostly thanks to the extremely talented voice cast, particularly Richard Steven Horvitz’s performance as Zim. All of the voice work is on point though, from normal conversations, to hammy pronouncements, to quieter emotional moments, it’s the voice actors who give these characters life, and it’s cool to see the original voice cast back at it again. Visually, Enter the Florpus has a cool, stylized, cel-shaded look, with an interesting color pallete and effective, liberal use of dramatic camera angles. When the Earth starts getting dangerously close to the Florpus, rapid shifts in art style (including one where the characters are all puppets) are used to represent realities colliding. The last of these shifts is into what looks like a rough, uncolored, and (intentionally) unfinished piece of animation. It’s reminiscent of animation school theses I’ve seen where the animator ran out of time had had to turn it in as-is, and it perfectly emphasizes the peril the heroes are in, as well as the way that their reality is unravelling around them.

         If it’s not obvious by now, I really liked Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus. While it’s certainly nothing earth-shattering, it manages to be both a good movie, and a good Invader Zim movie. I highly recommend it, and can only hope we don’t have to wait seventeen years to see these characters again.

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