It's time for another rousing chorus of the "Doom Song," because Invader Zim is coming back more than a decade after it was canceled by Nickelodeon. This Friday (August 16), Netflix will upload Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus, a movie special that brings Zim, Dib, Gaz, GIR, Professor Membrane, and the rest of the gang back for another whacky sci-fi outing that involves chocolate pudding, inter-dimensional space holes, and a truly heartwarming message about world peace — just don't expect a genuine series finale. Series creator Jhonen Vasquez laughs in the face of such an earthling concept.
"There really wasn't any goal, other than to make more Zim," Vasquez tells SYFY WIRE. "I keep saying that the whole point of the movie is that it's just more Zim. I've been getting a lot of fans [who are] very happy that finally, they'll get to see Zim finish the way that it should've been finished a long time ago. There's nothing to finish, there's just more stuff. There's just more running around and screaming and being horrible."
The series, which followed the misadventures of an inept alien invader (voiced by Richard Horvitz) sent to conquer Earth simply because he annoyed his superiors so much, always had the makings of a cult classic. Vasquez infused the show with a unique combination of absurdist humor, impeccably hammy voice acting, and shockingly jarring animated imagery. Much like Rocko's Modern Life, Invader Zim got away with a ton of stuff that you wouldn't think an alleged "kid-friendly" show would be able to do. Nevertheless, the cartoon property endured and its still-growing fan base (helped along by a series of Oni Press comics, which Vasquez co-wrote with Eric Trueheart) led to Enter the Florpus.
"For the longest time after the series ended... I guess Nickelodeon picked up on the fact that fans weren't shutting about it and [the network] would contact me every now and then about just working on more Zim. Either another series or whatever," Vasquez admits. "Ultimately, it just kind of turned into 'whatever.' Like [they said], 'We would just like to do anything Zim.' I knew that a series wasn't the right thing at the time and I talked about miniseries stuff, and then that turned into a single story that turned into this. And they went for it. At the time, Nickelodeon was incredibly enthusiastic about Zim stuff, so we made this movie, and that's pretty much it."
In terms of plot, we won't give too much away, but rest assured it has to do with our eponymous extra-terrestrial antihero realizing that his bosses — The Tallest (voiced by Wally Wingert and Kevin McDonald) — may not have cared much for his Earth-conquering mission this whole time. Falling into a self-pitying spiral that involves a nacho cocoon (yes, a nacho cocoon), Zim's drive to take over our planet is revitalized when he learns about a new invention from the innovative Professor Membrane.
"It really wasn't a controlled thing," Vasquez says of coming up with the film's plot. "I wasn't sitting around going, 'What if Zim does this? What if Zim does that?'"
Vasquez says he wanted the story to come naturally and that he didn't want to force anything on everyone's favorite busybody alien. But time passed — about a month since he'd last spoken with Nickelodeon — and while driving in the Bay Area, he says, "I just pictured like a black hole with giant Lovecraftian fish circling it. And this doesn't end up in the movie at all. None of that ends up in the movie at all, but I ended [up] trying to figure out how do we get to that scenario that was this thing that was gonna absorb the Earth? And I just worked backward from that and that started becoming the movie. On the drive, I called [Nickelodeon] up and I was like, 'Hey, I've got some ideas here,' and they were into it and it just went from there."
He adds: "Also, I started randomly singing a song in the shower one day and that ended up becoming the other big piece of the movie. And that's how I made a movie."
Above all else, Vasquez wanted the movie to feel like a natural continuation, albeit with one major caveat: He didn't want to exploit fans' nostalgia.
"When it came time to figure out what do about it, I didn't jump right into it," he explains. "I really wanted to make sure that I had an idea that justified spending several years [working on it]. Everything's going to be sort of a certain pile of misery and it had to be worth the misery. At the time, I just thought, 'This is pretty funny!' And we just went forward with it... I didn't want to address the changes in our times or any of that kind of thing. I didn't want it to feel like 'He's back and he's better than ever!' He's not better than ever, he's just as horrible as he's ever been. It was just important for me. I get really uncomfortable watching stuff that cashes in on nostalgia."
The creator's view of nostalgia manipulation is one that would make Kurt Russell's R.J. MacReady very proud indeed.
"I definitely go in with this wary attitude that someone is taking advantage of an audience," he adds. "Taking advantage of, 'Hey, remember this thing? Here's a thing that isn't that thing, but it's wearing that same skin on its face.' It's just where my brain is; it's just how I work. This stuff really comes from the same place as that old stuff. It wasn't me trying to recapture it. This is just the stuff that I think is funny... It was a lot like the kind of stuff that I loved growing up and I still do. And the kind of stuff that I love doesn't always try to make everybody happy."
Even so, it's hard not to feel a rush of wistfulness with all the original cast members coming back to voice their characters, including GIR (Rikki Simmons), Zim's insane robot companion; Dib Membrane (Andy Berman), Zim's fellow classmate and the only human who recognizes the alien's dangerous potential; Gaz Membrane (Melissa Fahn), Dib's cynical sister; and Professor Membrane (Rodger Bumpass), Dib and Gaz's genius father whose lab coat famously obscures his mouth.
"That was one of my favorite things," Vasquez admits. "Going into a production, you have a certain amount of points allotted to your forcefield and you know they're just gonna get depleted as you get further and further along. So, there are these things that I knew would replenish our forcefield a little bit. Working with the actors; working with Kevin [Manthei], the composer. Those things always kind of give me new life.
"I was looking so forward to having Richard and Andy and Melissa and Rikki and everybody back," he continues. "The cast is super focused. We didn't really expand on characters. It was really, really, really fun... I love doing the voice directing and acting along with them. I do a couple of voices in the movie and for the first time, I actually voiced kind of a major character."
That "major character" goes by the name of Clembrane, and he's one of the funniest and wackiest parts of Enter the Florpus. Funnily enough, this role was actually designated for Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. His schedule was so busy, however, that he only ended up playing minor characters.
"We needed a particular voice and he's got such a distinct voice for me," Vasquez says. "He was busy with some show of his, but what ended up happening was by the time he was able to come in, Richard and everyone had been hearing my voice in the temp recording over the animatic and it was kind of just like, 'That's the guy now.'"
So, Roiland became, among other characters, Foodio 3000, Professor Membrane's cooking robot. Vasquz reveals that Foodio 3000 was actually meant to make its debut in the original series and had been written into future scripts, but the show was canceled before the character was introduced. So, in reality, Foodio 3000 made its official debut in the Invader Zim comics. For Vasquez, Roiland was a natural fit.
As for why the series was canceled after just two seasons in the early 2000s, there's no clear answer. Speaking with SYFY WIRE last year, Richard Horvitz offered up his own theory, pointing to how the tragedy of 9/11 turned audiences away from apocalyptic stories about doom and world domination.
"I never point to any one particular thing," Vasquez says. "The show could've come out at any point in history and I don't think it would ever really be appropriate... I think there's always horrible things happening in the world and genuine comedy comes from horrible things. At the time, it just happened to be things like Columbine and 9/11 and then people freak out because they don't want to offend anyone's sensibilities. It's a justified response to a certain extent; there's people who have been affected and they don't want to be reminded of this awful stuff … I just think that it did not jive well with Nickelodeon's image."
He continues: "But it might come down to ratings. If the show still wasn't their cup of tea, but was doing incredibly well, then that might've been a different story. We were never going to be SpongeBob huge."
So, will Enter the Florpus lead to more Invader Zim in the form of another movie or even a revival series?
Well, to quote any Magic 8 Ball out there, "Future unclear, check again later." That being said, Vasquez is still brimming with ideas for more stories, especially since Nickelodeon was adamant on bringing the character back in some way, shape, or form.
"I honestly can't say. It comes and goes. It's such a roller coaster of emotions that we're on, and it's been non-stop," he says. "When we were working on the movie, Nickelodeon was pretty insistent on talking about more episodes, talking about pitching the idea of producing another season. Anytime I start hearing stuff like that, my brain can't help but get going. I start thinking, 'How would we do this? Would I be involved?' I would want to be involved in some way, but I wanna do other stuff. I never close the door to the idea of these characters … A lot of the people [who supported the movie] sort of moved on to bigger and better things and then talk about more Zim died down … I didn't really push it because I was busy with the movie. So who knows? It really depends on who's in control at the time and what they're into. They were really into Zim. Now, I don't know. It's hard to say."
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus will attempt to conquer our planet via Netflix on August 16.