This Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! review contains some very mild spoilers.
It’s been over two years since Nickelodeon announced the production of a revival movie of their cult classic series, Jhonen Vasquez’s Invader Zim. It was already a nostalgic dream come true for diehard Zim fans like myself, but then Nickelodeon went the extra mile by recreating the conditions of the show during its original run. Just like they did in the aughts, they greenlit the production and then stopped supporting it entirely, with the seeming intent to bury it without it ever seeing the light of day. What a blast from the past! It’s stuff like this that continues to make Nickelodeon my favorite Viacom subsidiary.
Luckily, Netflix has never met a nostalgic property it didn’t like and eventually snapped up Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! It’s frankly stunning we don’t already have a Netflix-funded Invader Zim revival series (or live-action remake) by now, so that the movie has ended up on the platform feels like the natural order of things.
So, was it worth the wait? Overall, yes. Enter the Florpus! contains enough inventive moments and truly hilarious laugh-out-loud jokes to justify its existence. It’s also a joy to witness the return of Zim, Gir, Dib, Gaz, Professor Membrane, the Almighty Tallest, and Bloaty the Pizza Hog—all pitch-perfectly voiced by their original actors. Richard Horvitz as Zim, especially, is in immaculate form, flawlessly executing Zim’s screaming and signature evil laughter and even getting to stretch his range (Zim gets depressed at one point, which adds a novel new dimension to Horvitz’s performance).
The art and animation look almost perfect. Screengrabs and the odd animation sequence are so on-point they’ll transport you to the early Nicktoon days. The characters look right, the backgrounds look great, and the CGI is exactly how it was before. Zim was an early adopter of cel-shaded CGI, the look of which hasn’t really changed, so when it’s brought back here, it’s precisely what you’d hope for.
Unfortunately, the rest of the time, when I say Florpus! looks almost perfect, the emphasis is on “almost.” It’s tough to pin down what exactly is off here, but it looks like the animation has fewer frames, giving it something of an anime vibe. It’s not always like this; sometimes a moment of beautiful, super-fluid animation pops up—like when Zim’s house unleashes its creepy power tendrils—but this is infrequent. There’s also something ever so slightly different about the art. Invader Zim has always looked angular and kind of, uh, computery, but it still felt chaotic and grimy too. It’s tough to shake the feeling while watching Florpus! that everything is a little too bright and sterile. These small differences hardly ruin the film, but if you were a fan of the original show, it’s distracting.
The other, more major, change is that Invader Zim now features the concept of hope. The series was relentlessly nihilistic with effectively every character (but most commonly Dib) constantly failing or losing. However, Vasquez has made a deliberate shift with Dib’s family, evolving them so that he, Gaz, and his dad actually care about each other sometimes. This one change singlehandedly alters Zim’s dynamic. This small tweak of kindness means that there’s a glimmer of happiness for Dib, and the introduction of any kind of hope to the Invader Zim universe means its mantra is no longer “DOOM, DOOM, DOOM.” Now it’s more like “DOOM, DOOM, …hope?”
I support the change. After all, if you’re going to revive something long after its original run, there should be some evolution to it. Plus, the heartfelt family moments between Dib and his father land well and work as a good emotional arc for the plot. There’s one such moment between Dib and Gaz that feels a bit forced, but the father-son stuff is a welcome development that works for the film.
However, maybe a byproduct of this hopefulness is that Enter the Florpus! is, above all else, a comedy. Invader Zim is supposed to be funny, of course, but the series was made up of equal parts goofiness, sci-fi action, and horror. The movie is almost exclusively only the first thing. It still feels like Zim; it just feels like one of the super-silly episodes (e.g.,“Zim Eats Waffles” or “Mortos Der Soulstealer”). My personal favorite Zim is “Dark Harvest,” one of the darkest, most disturbing Zims there is, so I do lament that creepiness is not a huge focus in Florpus! Also, you’d think a Zim movie would be the perfect venue for a crazy-cool CGI spaceship action sequence, but surprisingly, there isn’t one (there’s a bit where Gaz pilots a spaceship around some meteorites but it’s brief).
All that said, Florpus! does do its goofiness really well. Vasquez is still an amazing comedy writer and there are a lot of clever jokes here. I watched the movie twice and was surprised to find the same jokes still cracked me up. Also, though there might not be a big sci-fi action sequence, the silly tone of the movie instead culminates in some amazingly inventive and exhilarating fourth-wall-destroying animation gags.
It does take some time to get there, however. Florpus!’s pacing is a bit off. It doesn’t really have peaks and troughs so much as it starts slow and continually picks up more and more speed until it explodes into all-out chaos. This is not a new problem, though; pacing in longer Zim stories has always been an issue. (The opening scene of the pilot, “The Nightmare Begins,” an episode that’s the length of two regular Zims, is probably the most plodding sequence in all Zimdom.) Regardless, it took me about half an hour to get on board with Florpus!, but after that it became a perpetual motion machine of freewheeling absurdity.
What Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus! lacks in classic Zim tropes, it makes up for in creativity. With a focus on comedy and the introduction of a hopeful character arc for Dib, it’s not quite everything about Zim you remember, but that’s okay. As the Rocko’s Modern Life movie taught us, it’s important to be accepting of change. It would’ve been depressing for these characters to go through a lazy rehash of their past adventures, so I’m far happier that Jhonen Vasquez took this opportunity to evolve Invader Zim. I do wish the animation looked just the tiniest bit more like I remember though.
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!
Read and download the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!