I know nostalgia is a huge selling point these days and to some extent it is rather annoying, but I’m not immune to it. I mean it’s that urge that got me in the door for the “The Lion King” remake which I sadly despised. This week I decided to revisit my childhood in a different way, by embracing a pair of Netflix releases that continue long-canceled television programs I grew up on from Nickelodeon. In addition to the “Rocco’s Modern Life” Netflix special I also had the pleasure of viewing the long-overdue film continuation of the 2000s cult classic “Invader Zim”. I remember this show so well. I loved its quirkiness, it’s strange characters, it’s outlandish portrayal of a devolving society that turned out to be frighteningly accurate, and it’s unique and now trademark style of animation. Sadly, the show only lasted two seasons and 27 episodes with fans longing for a continuation for years. Well like “Firefly” before it, this prematurely canceled series seems to have found new life in movie form and while the 1 hour and 11 minute film might not be a big-screen feature I just could not resist revisiting a franchise that defined my high school years. Does this feature-length continuation satisfy after the long wait fans have endured? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus”.
“Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus” picks up some time after the main series ended with Zim (Richard Horvitz) having disappeared and Dib Membrane (Andy Berman) obsessively waiting for the alien’s return. When Zim finally does resurface Dib discovers the alien was biding his time waiting to initiate “Phase 2” of his plan to conquer Earth. Meanwhile, Dib finds it hard to relate to his scientist father Professor Membrane (Rodger Bumpass) who believes Dib’s alien theories are nothing more than fiction. When Zim forgets his plan for Phase 2 and discovers that his superiors, the Tallest, seem to have no interest in Earth he loses his will to conquer leading Dib to seemingly finally win his long-lasting rivalry and convince Zim to show himself to the world. However, Dib soon learns that his alien opponent has actually concocted his most despicable plan yet, one that puts Earth right in the path of a dangerous black hole, forcing Dib to pull out all the stops to defeat Zim once and for all.
“Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus” is just awesome. Who would have thought that Netflix and Nickelodeon would provide one of the best non-Disney animated features of 2019? Watching this film, it felt like “Invader Zim” had never left. The style, the tone, the humor, the voicework…it all harkens back to the greatness of the series and, in many ways, expands upon it taking the stakes and the scale to more cinematic heights. Mixing great self-awareness and satire, “Enter the Florpus” knows it’s ridiculous and over the top and is willing to continue the show’s trend of poking fun at society and the downward spiral of humanity while also being willing to poke fun at itself and its source material in ways I didn’t expect. Watching the show, we were used to seeing Zim’s ridiculous plans put into action and fail, but to see one on the scale he accomplishes in this movie feels extreme even by this world’s standards…and yet it also feels so appropriate.
The irony of Zim’s master plan is that it involves, of all things, peace. It’s the one thing Zim never really tried before and yet it proves to be the most powerful weapon in his arsenal. A lot of times the show would focus on how absentminded and oblivious humanity was becoming, but now 13 years after the show was canceled the movie adjusts for modern times in a pretty neat way. Zim’s master plan mirrors how society has evolved from when the show was at it’s prime in 2001, prior to the September 11 attacks when fear of the unknown and the effects of the ignorance of humanity was prevalent, to today’s world where peace and harmony has created its own ignorance, an inability to see the evil and hypocrisy hidden beneath the veil of our saviors. It’s pretty amazing all these years later that I can watch a film like this and not only understand the characters and concept better, but also better interpret what the property as a whole was always trying to say. Human ignorance, whether driven by stupidity or a drive for peace, is the most powerful weapon that can be exploited against society. It’s so powerful even a dufus like Zim can utilize it as a means to an end.
Even if you don’t want to take the film that seriously, and let’s face it there are a lot of people who don’t, “Enter the Florpus” is just an all-around great “Invader Zim” continuation. By giving Zim his most epic plan yet he becomes a true threat to humanity for the first time motivated by finally having his ego shattered by his lack of relevance in the eyes of his homeworld. By making Dib older and wiser and further exploring the relationship he has with his father Dib becomes more human and his longing to prove his discovery of aliens to his father ups the stakes for him as well. While both characters experienced ups and downs on the show, here they are both forced to evolve as they experience revelations of their lives and realities after years of chasing their goals. In the end you almost don’t know who you want to win, even if it’s almost too obvious who we’re supposed to be rooting for. The animation is also spot on, even adding some new styles and polishing the designs and aesthetic from the original show. The world feels the same, the characters look the same, but everything just feels more solid and better rendered than in the 2000s. The fact that the original voice cast returned to bring their characters to life again doesn’t hurt either. Even the comedy, mostly driven by the immortal GIR, seems to both borrow and improve on what made the show so entertaining mixing random moments of otherwise generic humor with more subtle laughs for what turned out to be a truly fun experience all its own.
But “Enter the Florpus” is not without its flaws. While a great film, and one worthy of the iconic “Invader Zim” name, it does experience some pacing problems and tends to try a bit too hard to say something meaningful while also pandering to the established audience that waited 13 years for the film to become a reality. While I can respect what the filmmakers were doing here and the fact that “Enter the Florpus” doesn’t ever feel like a television movie, it also never really reaches the cinematic heights it seems to promise and feels trapt somewhere between an extended episode and a legitimate feature-length film. I guess that can be expected from a film based on a beloved but long-dormant series. You have to be willing and able to do something new and yet also give the audience what they want. But as I said at the start I watched this film along with the “Rocko’s Modern Life” special which was only 45-minutes long and managed to accomplish more and even take more chances than the “Invader Zim” movie in a shorter amount of time. Both pander to their core audiences, but “Enter the Florpus” often gets stuck between being what it needs to be and what it wants to be giving it a slight identity crisis and making the story feel a bit forced or rediculous at rare moments if looked at with a very critical eye. It’s far from enough to ruin the experience but I’m a critic and it’s my self-appointed job to spoil the fun…even for myself at times.
Even then this is an “Invader Zim” movie that remembers why we loved the show, which shouldn’t be surprising since it was written by series creator Jhonen Vasquez. While it does honor what we’ve come to expect and love from the property it’s also willing to take its share of risks and upping the ante by finally making Zim a true threat and Dib a more grounded human character allowing both characters’ motivations and missions to finally come to fruition. In addition to looking great, capturing the style and characters perfectly while updating the aesthetic just enough to be visually pleasing yet familiar, and bringing back the original cast who provide amazing performances as if they never stopped embracing the show after all this time, “Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus” is a satisfying continuation of a long-lost gem of a cartoon that was canceled well before its time. It’s undeniable proof this show had so much more to offer and thankfully this feature finally gives us what we’ve waited years to see, the ultimate episode of one of the greatest science fiction cartoons of all time.