Invader Zim (Richard Horvitz) and his robot sidekick GIR (Rikki Simons) are still preparing for the arrival of the Irken leaders, the Tallest (Wally Wingert and Kevin McDonald) to take over planet Earth. If only his paranormal investigating enemy, Dib (Andy Berman) would stop trying to expose him to the incredibly oblivious human race, including his video game addicted sister, Gaz (Melissa Fahn) and celebrity scientist father, Dr. Membrane (Rodger Bumpass).
So here’s an embarrassing confession: I’ve never seen Invader Zim. I grew up with Nickelodeon when creator driven cartoons were the standard, but Invader Zim always eluded my interest. And after spending a weekend binging the series, I can see why. It wasn’t like other Nicktoons: brightly colored, fluidly animated, and traditionally funny. Its animation was angular, it’s world building was macabre, its attention was random before the internet made it normal, and its twisted sense of humor would leave Ren and Stimpy hiding under the bed, clearly aiming for an older audience. If it aired on the likes of MTV or Comedy Central, it would’ve gotten more seasons under its belt rather than the cancellation axe in its early lifespan since creator, Jhonen Vasquez, was pushing the content and budget with little returning viewership. But like Rocko’s Modern Life, it too got a special that was eventually moved to Netflix. And as someone who’s familiar with the show, but not entirely nostalgic, I didn’t know what to expect. The whole series has built up to a giant invasion of an alien species upon Earth, but that’s not what we get here.
First of all, it’s great hearing Richard Horvitz again as Zim. This actor’s made a living using one voice on a variety of different characters, and Zim is one of his crowning achievements. The same goes for the returning cast: Andy Berman as Dib, Melissa Fahn as Gaz, and Squidward himself Roger Bumpass as Dr. Membrane. The animation is also incredible with much experimentation and expressiveness from the first frame. It runs the gambit on different styles throughout the story and never lets up. Though purists might be put off by the more rounded and cleaner approach since the original was very grimy, gross, unsettling, and rigid. Imagine if Edgar Allen Poe made graphic novels in the suburbs. However, the comics did adopt this style long before this special, so it gets a pass.
What doesn’t get a pass is the eventual conclusion the story reaches. With an expanded runtime, Dib and Zim’s rivalry is just as hilarious as GIR’s unpredictable mindset. And surprisingly, Dib’s family gets the best moments in family bonding, even with a fish imposter. In fact this special is more about Dib than Zim. The problem is it doesn’t deliver on its promised galactic apocalypse, in a way. I know it’s called Enter the Florpus, which is entirely separate from the looming danger, but for a series that built up this alien invasion it never crosses that bridge. Dib has interacted with the Tallest before, and to do it in person would’ve been a fantastic stand off for the fanbase to witness. Heck, he could’ve teamed up with Zim seeing as the pathetically hilarious invader finds out that the Tallest only sent him to Earth as an alternate form of exile. Imagine Zim going against his leaders for revenge after all these years, and then backstabbing Dib to personally head the Earth invasion himself. But it’s just the typical rivalry stretched to an hour and 11 minutes. There’s a point where the invasion comes into play, but it’s quickly resolved before it can leave any memorable impact leaving the overall direction confused on whether it wants to be a finale or a reboot. The elements of a final battle are present with the bigger animation budget, but when all is said and done, it reverts back to square one. One could argue it’s more akin to Pinky and the Brain where it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Fair enough, but why go through all the trouble of teasing the Irken’s arrival when the series went on a long hiatus just to come out with an extended episode? And does this mean we’ll be seeing more Invader Zim in the future? The direction’s so confused that the answer is to be determined.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus is an incredibly funny comeback for a character that was cancelled in its prime, but it’s loyalty to its roots backfires on its squandered story potential. The returning voice cast is amazing, the bizarre humor never loses its touch, and the experimental animation makes up for the fact that its just a longer version of an episode. But as a special its very confused on whether it wants to be a grand finale or hit the reset button. There’s a lot of untapped material concerning the eventual invasion because it wants to play it safe while Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling took more advantage of its premise despite being a half hour shorter. But if you’re a fan of the series, definitely check it out after being starved to death of it’s funny lead since the early 2000’s. And even newcomers should be able to follow it without previous context thanks to a very informal intro. Just don’t get your expectations up if you want to see something like an homage/satire on War of the Worlds. It’s all in the family for this special.