Minor spoilers for the film ahead.
Oh boy, here we go.
I had mixed feelings after watching this Netflix-and-Nickelodeon-produced Invader Zim feature movie, based on a script that had been kept in production since when the show was still a fresh hit.
What can I say? It starts well and ends well, that’s for sure. The animation is top-notch, and some moments are jaw-dropping. But there are a lot of little things that don’t add up right, and in the end the meat of the experience seems a little stale and misguided. Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like I’m watching Invader Zim, but rather some unsettling hybrid of Zim with Rick and Morty.
Invader Zim is a great cartoon with a bad reputation for relying on epic meme lel random XD humor, when that was really only about 5% of the comedy, and it was almost always in service of something else that was funnier and more relevant to what was happening (ignoring the waffles episode).
But in Enter the Florpus, we get a lot of jokes that just feel…low effort? Kind of like a superfan wrote his own fanfiction idea for a movie. The characters are done right (mostly) and it’s a snappy, well-paced movie, but it just feels like it’s missing some of the spirit of the original.
To explain what I mean about spirit, I have to get one issue out of the way that I think is the most contentious: I don’t think Dib should be the protagonist of an Invader Zim movie.
Please understand, Dib is a good character in short bursts, and I love some of his episodes, but the show is called Invader Zim. I would have honestly been happier with a completely different premise for a movie where Zim is the protagonist, and we get to enjoy seeing him try and fail at conquering Earth. But then he bungles it up and maybe he has to work with Dib to stay alive and fix the mess he made. Something like that. Or perhaps a story where Dib finally gets people suspicious enough of Zim to where he’s found out and he has to hide from major governments and find some way to wipe everyone’s memory. Something that puts Zim in the driver’s seat and the starring role.
The reason I say this is because the key joke, the #1 principle behind Invader Zim’s humor, is that Zim is incompetent. This whole plot they went with of Zim actually threatening Earth and nearly getting it destroyed kind of breaks an important rule of the show’s premise. Following Zim while he’s being incompetent is funny. Zim being an actual threat while we follow Dib and Gaz trying to stop him is…eh, it’s okay I guess. Again, feels kind of like you’re missing what the show was originally about, but whatever.
Another challenge I had with the movie was its side characters, specifically Gaz and a new character introduced who sticks along with Dib and his sister throughout the adventure. The new character is 100% crack-cocaine-tier unfunny cringe, the epitome of “Zim was funny and random, right? Here you go, funny and random bullshit with no purpose.” Nothing more need be said about that, other than the character is not funny, and they have an obnoxious amount of screentime and role in the plot.
Gaz, Dib’s gamer sister, is a far more interesting part of the film. She was a cult favorite in the show due to her interesting mix of antisocial goth girl and unapologetic consumerist. That’s what made her amazing, that she would act aloof but could also be entranced by a trip to Bloaty’s Pizza Hog. And she was a badass psycho, without it coming off as unlikable or forced. In Enter the Florpus, however, Gaz is, for lack of a better term, de-leveled into a cold but secretly affectionate and supportive big sister character. The parts of the film that tried to humanize Gaz in this way made me straight-up queasy.
I think a lot of the issues I’ve described were inspired by the plan to make an Invader Zim movie as accessible as possible to those who watched/remembered very little of the original. What’s the basics that are still covered? Zim’s an undercover alien trying to conquer earth? Check. But ever since episode one he’s been a joke who will never succeed without also getting himself killed, and that’s the point? Evidently not. Dib is a kid who tries to stop Zim? Check. But that he’s a weirdo who comes on too strong and never finds a clever way to prove his assertions? Evidently not (remember, Dib is the kid who took a picture of Zim without his disguise, but left the lens cap on. He’s just as much of an idiot as Zim). But the movie is for human beings, right? And Dib is a human being trying to save other human beings. Therefore he has to be the main character.
Um, okay, only no, not at all. You can have stories with a villain protagonist. The original show proves it just fine. Have Zim fail in humorous ways, or have him nearly succeed but with that going out of control and needing Dib or Gaz’s help to clean up his mess. Or hell, something entirely unique, like the episode where Zim was outcast to a fast food job on another planet and had to find a way to escape back to Earth. All great ways to use your title character for the main crux of the story.
But hey, remember Tak? Remembering her getting trapped in her own ship? They still remembered that, at least. Admittedly, the Dib VS Zim premise was a good opportunity to dust off the Tak ship and give her something to do.
I’m glad Enter the Florpus did well and that it got showered with praise by critics. It’s good to know that the critical sphere still remembers Zim fondly. But as someone who goes back to watch the original show fairly often, the differences are clear, and it doesn’t stand up to Dark Harvest, Bestest Friend, or the Halloween double-length episode, which is some of the most captivating kid’s TV ever made.
Give it a try if you LOVE Invader Zim, because you still might. Pretty much all the key fanservice buttons are pressed along the way. But don’t expect everything to be exactly where you left it after a twelve-year absence.
Watch it for: The incredible animation in the beginning, end, and some action scenes in the middle.
Don’t watch it for: A nostalgic return to the greatness of Invader Zim’s peak.
Maybe instead: Try the excellent comic books.