"Those ships traveling through the tunnel there, it's not traditional hand-drawn
animation. It's... witchcraft." -- Jhonen Vasquez, from the commentary track
I can safely say, without risk of hyperbole, that Jhonen Vasquez' "Invader
Zim" was one of the most clever, most intelligent, most entertaining, and
(definitely) twisted cartoons for kids since the salad days of John Kricfalusi's
original "Ren and Stimpy." During its all-too-brief lifetime on Nickelodeon,
its sick sense of humor and gaggle of bizarrely intriguing characters (not to
mention brilliant use of color and the amazing use of cel-shaded CGI) garnered
"Zim" legions of fans of all ages, from hardcore Jhonen freaks to
those of us who simply liked watching alien invaders suck the guts from elementary
school kids. When the show was finally canceled, the wailing and gnashing of
teeth was unprecedented in the world of cartoons, as fans of the show berated
Nickelodeon for the most boneheaded move by a television network since "Joe
Millionaire" got greenlighted.
But now "Zim" fans have a reason to squeal, GIR-like, with glee.
Anime Works, a company previously known only for their releases of licensed
anime titles under the Media Blasters label, has given "Invader Zim"
a 2-disc, 9-episode DVD treatment that is truly befitting of a world-conquering
overlord like Zim himself.
While this DVD is found in the children's section of video stores, it's pretty
obvious that it's not aimed at the "Rugrats" crowd. The extras packed
onto this disc are... interesting.
For starters, there's the commentary track. On the majority of the episodes
on this disc, we get a full cast and creator commentary, with Jhonen Vasquez
himself and a rotating gaggle of others ranging from the lead voice actors to
the producer to storyboard artists. And the comments are, well, odd. You might
already have surmised that from the sample quote at the top of this review.
In most DVDs, there's actually not much in the way of real information to be
found in such commentaries. Usually they give production tidbits, anecdotes
from directors and actors, things like that. The "Zim" commentaries
do have a little of that, but mainly it's Jhonen and crew just having a good
time rewatching the episodes and making rather MST3K-like comments. The commentary
of one episode starts off with five minutes of the gang doing nothing but crunching
on Wheat Thins and slurping drinks. And that's not even getting to the special
"alternate" commentary track for the episode "Bad Bad Rubber
Piggy," which is composed entirely of pig grunts and squeals!
The actuual voice commentary makes Jhonen's conflicted feelings over his creation
fairly clear, however; he seems to alternate between hating the mass-market
dross that was "Invader Zim" and being perversely pleased with putting
something so sick and twisted on children's basic cable.
Another major extra on this disc is selected "animatics" from the
show. By using the alternate camera angle feature of your DVD, you can see a
slideshow of the hand-drawn storyboards for certain episodes, playing out much
like a sketchy comic book version of each episode, albeit one with full acting
and special effects tracks. It's interesting, if only to see how "Zim"
was visualized for each episode before it was animated. But again, it's not
a feature that the kiddies are going to sit still for. What with this, the commentary
tracks, and the Irken subtitles (each episode is subtitled, but in the Irken
language itself), I think we can safely dispense with the conceit that this
is a DVD of a kid's show aimed at kids.
Hardcore "Zim" fans will also undoubtedly enjoy the final major extra
here: the entire unaired pilot episode of "Invader Zim" (also with
a commentary track). This provides an interesting look at what "Zim"
almost was, and frankly, I'm glad Jhonen and crew revised the show before it
went into full production. The unaired pilot is a lot cruder and more static
than the series, with a brighter (and vastly inferior) color palette and a more
slapstick and less utterly mental faceoff between Zim and Dib. The biggest and
most surprising difference between the pilot and the series, though, is the
casting. All the main characters, like Gaz and Dib, are the same... but Zim
is voiced by none other than Billy "Fry from 'Futurama'" West. Though
the wild-eyed insane megalomania of the character is the same, I vastly prefer
Richard Horvitz' rendition of the character.
In short, if you are ANY kind of "Invader Zim" fan, you need to
run right out and purchase this DVD immediately. If you aren't a fan of "Invader
Zim," you need to run right out and purchase this DVD immediately so you
too can experience the glory that is Zim. Anime Works really went above and
beyond the call of duty here with the quality of the DVD transfer and especially
the fan-pleasing extras, and they deserve our thanks. And possibly our tacos.