I absolutely love cartoons of the ’90s and early 2000s. There was Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, Angry Beavers, Animaniacs, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series and all those other gems of our youth. There is one, however, that has recently become a not-so-secret obsession of mine, and I think it could very well have been one of the greatest, albeit short lived, cartoons of our preteen years.
Fraught with its disturbing plot lines and grotesque social commentary, Invader Zim is underestimated genius that was prematurely and unfairly stripped from everyone’s favorite children’s network (until Disney took over the world), Nickelodeon.
The show follows Zim, an obnoxious overconfident “Invader” tricked into exile by “The Tallest,” the leaders of Zim’s home planet Irken. These leaders are, in fact, simply the tallest members of Zim’s species. In the show’s pilot, Zim travels to Earth with a malfunctioning robot assistant on a fake mission, because contrary to most other sci-fi worlds, aliens don’t actually care about Earth. Because the show makes Earth unimportant, it is that much more awesome.
Throughout the show, Zim tries to destroy Earth as he believes his extensive planning and execution will impress The Tallest. Meanwhile, he clashes with Dib, a big-headed, paranormal obsessed kid who tries to show the world the truth about Zim to no avail.
Zim is everything I need in a show. It’s animated, it’s hilarious, and it can be mindlessly fun or deeply intellectual. Watching an episode of Invader Zim is insanely satisfying. But unfortunately, it’s also like eating Pringles… once you pop the fun don’t stop.
There is so much to love. First of all, I love GIR, Zim’s unstable bipolar robot. His comments and actions may be disturbing at times, like a lot of the show, but he’s so damn lovable in an unconventional way.
Dib’s little sister, Gaz, offers the little voice of reason the show has, but she also points out messed up aspects of American culture through her obsession with video games and Bloaty’s, a local pizza place a la Chuck E. Cheese. Genius!
Then, there’s the absolutely amazing, and award-winning, opening theme. The music makes me want to wage comedic alien warfare, and the images perfectly construct the basic background of the series. Win, win.
My favorite part of Invader Zim, however, is the character structure. Many cartoons have an archetypal “everyman” character and a “screwball” character. This is epitomized by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, respectively, and I always preferred the screwball type. (I think you might too, as a Northwestern student.) I liked Daffy over Bugs, Ren over Stimpy, Brain over Pinky, and on and on. I like the crazy, intelligent, irritable, calculating, characters who usually lose. Looking back, it may have been because I identified more with those characters, which speaks volumes about my adolescence, and the sentiment has continued into my “adult” life.
Zim, unlike those other shows, contains two screwball characters and ultimately no everyman. Zim and Dib are both crazies that never win. The alien and his sworn human enemy over-exaggerate most situations and make their rivalry out to be a lot more intense than it actually is, but in reality, they need each other.
Invader Zim is more than a grossly disturbing cartoon that my siblings really didn’t want to watch with me. It’s my (admittedly messed up) childlike escape, and I watch it with pride!