It’s strange to think that a show like Invader Zim would still have a dedicated fanbase nearly 18 years since its initial release. Mostly I would think that its continued popularity has something to do with how hard it’s hard to pin down Zim into any specific labels. Released in March of 2001 (the same day as Fairly Odd Parents), Invader Zim ran for two seasons with 27 episodes total, some of which had never been released during the series’ original run on Nickelodeon. Despite a paltry number of episodes by Nickelodeon standards, the series lived on through syndication, merchandising, an ongoing comic series that has run for several years, and an ungodly power to confuse and terrify.
I am next to certain that Invader Zim would never release on any modern child’s network today for how dark, disturbing, and insane some of its concepts are. There’s an episode dedicated to Zim trying to become more human by harvesting and eating the organs of other kids. Or the episode where he and his arch-nemesis Dib slowly turn into sausages. The closest kids show I can think of that attempts to show as much disturbing imagery as possible is Courage the Cowardly Dog, but that show pales in comparison to the disturbing nature that is Invader Zim.
So, of course, Netflix would give the show life again as a special. And of course, it’s just as strange and manic as the original series.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus
Director: Jenny Goldberg, Jake Wyatt
Release: August 16, 2019 (Netflix)
Enter the Florpus picks up some time after the series finale with Zim having mysteriously vanished from the Earth. His arch-nemesis, Dib, is certain that Zim is up to something, so he fused himself into a chair to wait for Zim’s return. Zim eventually does and reveals himself to the planet with the announcement that “Phase Two” of his plan to conquer Earth is finally set in motion. What exactly is Phase Two? Honestly, not even Zim is sure, since he spent all of his time in hiding sitting in a toilet and laughing maniacally to the point where he forgot what his plan even was. Can Dib stop Zim before it’s too late, or is everyone so incompetent that there’s nothing to worry about in the first place?
The first thing that stands out about Enter the Florpus is just how much of a breath of fresh air it feels. Most modern cartoons tend to lean towards brighter and happier aesthetics, a far cry away from Zim’s harsh angles and darker color palette. Just seeing the world with its dark violets, shades of pink, and crimson reds is striking, to say the least, although the revived visuals are slightly off from their original glory. It has nothing to do with the character designs (though Dib’s father Dr. Membrane seems a bit huskier than before), but more to do with how the movie tends to lean a bit more into softer edges and less jagged designs. It’s still fine, but hardcore Zim fans will have a bit of trouble reconciling the new visual style.
Different aesthetics aside, can I just say how good it is to see Zim back in action? I can’t stress this enough, but for as brief as Invader Zim’s time in the spotlight was, the impression that it left on an entire generation is undeniable. Enter the Florpus recaptures that tone beautifully. It helps that the original creator, Jhonen Vasquez, returned to write the script and shows off that he’s still got the magic. Zim remains melodramatic and manipulative, Dib feels like he’s ready to storm Area 51 at any moment, Gaz is always teetering on the breaking point from her moronic brother, and Zim’s servant Gir is still… Gir. He sings a song about peace and rolls in waffles for most of the movie. He’s easily the best character.
Unlike in previous episodes -where Zim’s plans for global conquest were always doomed to fail from his ineptitude-, Enter the Florpus feels like a series finale of sorts. The special develops stakes for the fate of the planet gradually, but by the time the Earth is in grave danger you’re on the edge of your seat for what will happen to the planet. Florpus accomplishes this by keeping the plot focused on Zim and Dib, with Gaz, Gir, and Professor Membrane acting as supporting characters. The special moves at a brisk pace because of this, never stopping to spend time with anyone outside of Zim or Dib, meaning that a lot of fan-favorite characters are reduced to cameo roles. Even Gir, who steals the show whenever he appears, doesn’t really get a chance to do anything outside of spout quotes to appear on Hot Topic merch.
But when Enter the Florpus is good, it’s really good, delivering exactly what you would expect out of an Invader Zim special. While some people were mixed on Nickelodeon’s other recent Netflix special, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, people seem to be more consistently enjoying Enter the Florpus. Personally speaking, while Static Cling was good, it felt preoccupied with moving at a breakneck pace and trying to cram in as much fanservice, satire, and commentary on modern gender issues then getting us reacquainted with its world and characters. It served as a commentary on reboot culture while simultaneously being a reboot that falls into a few of the pitfalls that it was trying to criticize. Meanwhile, Enter the Florpus comes across as just a new Invader Zim episode without any of the fat from Static Cling, giving it a leaner, simpler, yet more satisfying experience.
Where Enter the Florpus falters, much like in the original show, is balancing the tone. Most original episodes of Zim knew when to be funny, when to be dark, and when to be bizarrely disturbing (Who doesn’t love the Bloaty’s Pizza Hog commercial?). Enter the Florpus, on the other hand, goes all-in on the bizarre humor side of things. At its best, it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious that had me craving for me. At worst, it felt like an Invader Zim Mad Libs that were weird for the sake of weird. Then again, tone has always been Invader Zim’s greatest nemesis, so seeing the special struggle to nail the right balance of insanity is nothing new.
But as a revival of the show, Enter the Florpus serves as a fitting series finale that also has me clamoring for more. With Netflix trying to create as much original programming as possible now in preparation for the streaming wars, Zim would be a nice feather to add to its cap. The special showed that even 18 years later, the series would be in good hands and there’s still a lot of potential for future specials or seasons of the show. Whether or not we get anything from it is up to Nick and Netflix, but even if there’s no more Invader Zim, at least we got a solid special to end everything with.