Netflix’s Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus is the sort of long-awaited revival of a cult classic that makes you appreciate the unique space the original series carved out for itself on Nickelodeon. But the special also makes you reflect on what audiences in 2019 ultimately get out of a series like Invader Zim beyond a potent dose of nostalgia.
Much like Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus understands that while there’s sure to be a certain segment of its audience that comes to it completely unfamiliar with its core premise, most people tuning in have more than their fair share of fond memories of GIR (Rosearik Rikki Simons), Zim (Richard Steven Horvitz), and Dib (Andy Berman) trying to destroy one another and inadvertently becoming frenemies. In order to make sure that everyone’s caught up to speed, though, the movie opens up with a dramatic retelling of the story of how Dib and Zim first met that’s heavily stylized to capture the high regard Dib’s always held himself in.
As you’re watching Dib—rendered to look like a superheroically buff anime tough—and listening to him narrate his own backstory, Enter the Florpus reminds you just what kind of person he is. Well-meaning, yes, but also more than somewhat unhinged. Zim and the Irken Empire Dib’s been trying to warn everyone about are quite real, but the potential threat they posed never materialized in any meaningful way for anyone else.
Having Zim as a nemesis gave Dib something to do other scare his classmates with his crackpot conspiracy theories or mope around waiting for his absentee father Professor Membrane (Rodger Bumpass) to show up. Dib’s certainty that he was the only thing standing between the Earth and total annihilation by way of an alien invasion was what gave him a purpose in the original Invader Zim series. But Enter the Florpus shifts into gear by exploring what would become of the boy if Zim, his reason for existing, were to ever disappear. But Enter the Florpus is Zim’s story as much as it is Dib’s, and the movie quickly gets to the business of making you recognize how similar the pair are despite their avowed hatred of one another.
More than anything else in the galaxy, Zim desperately craves attention and validation from the Almighty Tallest Red (Wally Wingert) and Purple (Kevin McDonald), the Irken leaders he sees as his father figures. Zim and Dib’s inability to perceive the reality of their situations and the fact that they’re actually two friends who found one another after being cast out by their respective friends and family has always been a big part of the series. But Enter the Florpus pushes the characters to confront the truth about themselves because the movie has to push them forward into new spaces. Otherwise, what would be the point?
When you think about Invader Zim, one of the first things that comes to mind is the series’ signature filthy aesthetic that made the entire world seem as if was in a state of fast-tracked rot and decay that didn’t really bother anyone. You can picture GIR slathering cheese or mud onto his body as he runs around screaming bloody murder and demanding tacos. A lot of the show’s nostalgic factor is linked to these visceral, but simple ideas that Enter The Florpus could only rely on but so much if it wanted to be something that actually moved the series’ story forward. And so it takes Dib and Zim’s desires to protect and conquer Earth and turns them into things that both characters have a real shot at doing, depending on how they play their cards.
If Dib and Zim’s earlier antics really amounted to the two of them having epic playdates that were all merely human-fighting-alien invader-themed, then Enter the Florpus is where we see them both upping their game, and it’s all because they both come to understand that their relationships with their idols aren’t what they believed them to be. Invader Zim’s never been a particularly emotional show, but the special spends a fair amount of time giving its characters moments to explore their inner demons. It’s all through that greasy, familiar Invader Zim lens, but you can see that the movie’s characters are working through some weighty feelings when they aren’t trying to murder one another.
What’s really interesting about Enter the Florpus is how the basic elements of its story read in 2019 as compared to the way they might have back when Invader Zim was originally airing in the early aughts. Invader Zim’s a series about a paranoid fanatic who spends hours lurking in dark corners of the web feeding his obsessive delusions about an imminent alien invasion. The joke was always that (despite Zim and Dib’s sincere beliefs) the invasion wasn’t actually going to happen because of Zim’s incompetence and the Irken Empire’s lack of real interest in Earth. By turning Zim into a legitimate threat, though, Enter the Florpus both gives Dib a real reason to fight and makes you question which of them you’d want to win in the end.
Like Invader Zim the series, Enter the Florpus doesn’t make Earth out to be a beautiful, awe-inspiring place that you inherently want to be a part of. The entire planet’s a grimy, decrepit place filled with mindless people addicted to consumer technology. Dib loves it because it’s all he’s ever known, and Zim’s come to appreciate some things about the planet as he’s been influenced by the time he spent there. But you can’t help but understand the core disdain Zim has for Earth and humans, especially as you watch Enter the Florpus’ other supporting and background characters go about their disgusting, sticky, boring lives.
What Enter the Florpus does better than anything else is convey how much more potential there still is in the Invader Zim franchise. Though the film’s got its callbacks to the past, the ideas at work in it and Invader Zim’s premise lend themselves to stories that would feel fresh and new were the series ever to return.
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