Invader Zim was a cartoon that ran on Nickelodeon from 2001 to 2006, with only 27 total episodes released. It was a weird show, one that reveled in dark humor, unnerving body horror, and a bleak dystopian view of the future. Its animation was dark, in the literal sense. Episodes were draped in shadows, emphasizing muted purples and greens. Despite, and perhaps because of, it’s dark overtones, Zim’s main humor came from a sort of randomness, twisting serious and dark situations into the absurd. It was a formula that worked, creating memorable visuals, instilling nightmares in the youth, and spawning a culture of “random” humor.
Today, Zim is, unfortunately, almost entirely associated with its random humor. There is a not-unsubstantial section of the fan base that recognizes what made them laugh but without seeming to understand why. GIR, Zim’s robot companion, shrieking about tuna is not inherently funny. It’s the juxtaposition of GIR shrieking while Zim’s eyes boil out of his skull in trauma-inducing visuals that creates the humor. Unfortunately, the new movie for Netflix seems to have missed this memo.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus does a lot to make sure it feels like a continuation of the stories told from the original run. The hour-and-ten-minute “movie” opens with Dib as Zim-obsessed as ever. They crack some jokes about how time has passed, and it’s been so long since we’ve seen Zim, but it’s quickly brushed past to resume Zim’s usual hijinks. And from there, it really is just another episode of Invader Zim. Zim concocts a wild plan, Dib must find a way to stop it. If you’ve ever watched Zim before, you know how this story goes.
Unfortunately, though, the plot structure is where most of the similarities to the original show end. The clearest change is the visual enhancement. Every scene looks crisp, well animated, and brightly lit. This is not a good thing. With everything looking so good, the cracks in the animation are far clearer. The animation in the original show was janky, angular and gross, but it reveled in it, using its limited budget to enhance the weirdness of the show. Enter the Florpus looks a lot smoother, but the stylistic oddities that the new film attempts to bring from the original show look out of place.
It doesn’t help that the horror from the original show is gone. Even on a recent rewatch of the original run, I squirmed as an engorged Zim burped up an intestine he’d harvested in an attempt to appear more human. That’s still grotesque ten years later. Enter the Florpus, however, plays it safe. The movie offered plenty of opportunities to push the bar, especially since it is Netflix exclusive and no longer must worry about Nickelodeon’s TV guidelines. At no point do we see anything that’s even remotely upsetting, and that’s a bummer. This sanitized world also helps explain why the visuals look so strange. Aside from a few angles and weird teeth, the world of Florpus feels like a pretty ordinary cartoon, rather than the edgy world of Invader Zim.
And then there’s the humor, and once again we see why the Cronenberg-esque nightmares were needed. Enter the Florpus’s idea of humor largely consists of shrieking and extreme close-ups of characters. That’s not to say there’s nothing to laugh at, just that Florpus wants you to laugh at the same joke for its entire runtime. GIR, apropos of nothing, launching a pug into space was genuinely funny. But then Florpus doubles down on it. There’s never a break, just nonsense sight gag after screaming robot after big head. Humor needs pacing, setups, payoffs. Florpus attempts some of these things (looking at you, ham), but ultimately doesn’t really seem sure how to execute them in a larger scale. A lot of the jokes could work in smaller bursts, like in the two-minute web shorts that revel in this style of humor, but maintaining these jokes for over an hour is exhausting.
I haven’t spent a lot of time diving into the plot of Florpus, and I don’t really intend to. It lives in the space of the original cartoon, offering no new ideas or deeper themes. And sure, it’s a children’s cartoon, so why would I expect anything different? But this is a cartoon that has been dormant for years, and its target audience has grown up. There’s a lot that can still be done with the property to make it feel fresh and different. Netflix released a new Rocko’s Modern Life movie recently that also reveled in its own nostalgia but managed to update its ideas for a more modern era. The precedent is there, Enter the Florpus just chose to stay in its comfort zone.
Enter the Florpus sits in a weird place. There’s no denying it’s nice to see the characters alive and moving again, but much has changed from the original run. Gone is gut-churning body horror. The late-stage capitalist dystopia is there but doesn’t feel quite so terrifying. The art style got a serious update, which actively works against the grim world of Zim. The one holdover from the original run is the random humor, and they cranked that dial up to 11.
Ultimately, I’m left disappointed. There’s not enough depth to Florpus to hate it, I just wish it was better.