Invader Zim has been off the air for more than a decade, and the character's return to animation is long overdue. Although Zim has appeared in comics since the Nickelodeon animated series ended in 2006, the full restoration finally comes to fruition in Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus, which arrives Friday on Netflix. Series creator Jhonen Vasquez spoke with CBR about what the return of Zim means to him, his distaste of nostalgia for nostalgia's sake, and what his dream ad campaign for the movie would have been.
Enter the Florpus quickly reintroduces audiences to the world of Invader Zim. After spending years biding their time, Zim (voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz) and GIR (Rikki Simons) have resurfaced with new schemes to take over Earth for the Irken Empire. The only person standing in his way is Dib (Andy Berman), a dork obsessed with everything paranormal, with the reluctant help of his sister Gaz (Melissa Fahn) and their father, the world-famous Professor Membrane (Rodger Bumpass).
Making sure the film was accessible to both old and new fans alike was important for Vasquez. "I hope longtime fans get a headache and have to see a doctor, and I hope new fans can just jump right in and not need to have watched the series to understand what they’re seeing," he said. "Knowing that the characters were going to stay true to themselves, I hoped old fans wouldn’t need things spoon-fed to them. Mainly the movie’s hyper-focused on just telling this story, and if you have never met these characters before you should get the gist of them and their situation within the first few minutes: This guy hates that guy, that guy hates this guy, this girl hates both guys but not always equally, that guy’s dad could be more supportive, that guy’s leaders couldn’t be less supportive, that robot is an idiot."
Contemplating the return of the character and his world to animation, Vasquez said the experience was a "glorious and an interminable nightmare!"
"You know that meme where they play the 'Welcome to Jurassic Park' scene from Jurassic Park with the music building, and then they cut to the No Man’s Sky footage with that awkward monster-thing walking on two stupid legs and there’s suddenly a kazoo playing the rest of the theme?" he said. "A lot of the time it’s a lot like that! It’s a real roller coaster of emotions and expectations being celebrated or absolutely annihilated, and it won’t end until the movie is actually out. Netflix just put up the trailer and title image up on their service and it’s pretty great to see that, like an official sign of this phase of my life ending!"
The film is willing to throw the main characters into new arcs, pushing them further than they've ever been. Enter the Florpus actually explores the emotional depths of the characters in ways the original show never had time to explore, showing them dealing with internal problems and learning to move past them along the way.
"With a longer format," Vasquez explained, "it was just more interesting going slightly elsewhere with how the characters are, never for too long, but enough to see them knocked out of their usual orbits a bit. The characters losing their mojo was something we went for in the series but never got to finish so it was fun to get around to it for the movie. Hopefully, it’s just funny and not jarring."
There have been plenty of recent revivals of old franchises, many of which end up getting lost in their own universes at the cost of setting up a new story. Vasquez wanted to be careful not to make the film just for longtime fans. In fact, movies that overindulge in that sentiment seem to be a pet-peeve for the creator.
"A thing I really didn’t want to do was make the movie about nostalgia. You can’t control how people will factor nostalgia into their expectations, but I’m pretty put off by reliance on it," he said. "When you see some guys from cantina scene from Star Wars focused on in a scene from Rogue One, instead of being thrilled I’m irritated and wish the filmmakers weren’t leaning on that kinda distracting crap. I’m already enjoying your movie, dammit, stop trying so hard! So I don’t know really what was thrown in just for people to remember stuff. I’m really glad to see Minimoose show just how powerful their acting chops are."
The animation landscape has changed since Invader Zim left television. Whereas the shock comedy and dark sci-fi made Invader Zim an outlier in its original run, shows like Rick & Morty have proved the audience is ready for darkly comedic takes on science fiction. Vasquez revealed the growing subculture didn't change how he thinks about the series, however. He said that his intention when producing the special "was just making more Zim! That’s been the driving idea from day one of working on this thing, to not make it a great big event for the ages any more than every episode of the series ... though it was a great big event for the ages.
"I always wanted the tagline for the marketing to be 'It's just more Zim!' Ideas like ‘dark’ don’t so much factor into why or how we make the show so much as this is the kind of stuff we thought was funny even while recognizing how awful a lot of it is. As a kid, I loved understanding that the things I was seeing weren’t exactly things I should be doing, and seeing characters act out this terrible stuff was fascinating and funny to me. I imagine kids like that are still out there!"
Directed by Jhonen Vasquez and Jake Wyatt, Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus stars Richard Horvitz, Rikki Simons, Andy Berman, Melissa Fahn, Wally Wingert, Kevin McDonald, Rodger Bumpass and Olivia d’Abo. The film arrives Friday on Netflix.