Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Meet Phineas and Ferb

     “There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation
     ‘till school comes along just to end it,
     so the annual problem of our generation
     is finding a good way to spend it…

     Thus begins the theme song for one of Disney’s most beloved modern cartoons, which just recently aired its final farewell episode: Phineas and Ferb.

     The idea of watching an animated kid’s show might not appeal to you at first glance, because a lot of said shows really have no decent material to offer. However, Phineas and Ferb is a great hoot for both kids and adults, and I’m going to give you a thorough spoiler-free explanation of why it just might be worth your time.

Hogwarts Phineas and Ferb, A History

     Back in 1991, comedy writers Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh of The Simpsons and Family Guy lamented the lack of comedy shows that were really family-friendly. After creating the idea for an animated adventure that might fill that void, they struggled with Disney for years to have it released, until at long last in 2007, the first episode of Phineas and Ferb aired.

     Soon children and their parents alike flocked to their televisions during each episode, and the show continued to gain momentum until it finally beat out Kim Possible for Disney’s longest running original series.

     Over the years it has included a feature-length movie, called Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, which was comically advertised to be “in stunning 2D!” The show also aired two particularly stellar crossovers: one with the Avengers in the 2013 episode “Mission Marvel,” and one occurring in the Star Wars universe that was released in 2014.

     While Mire and Swampy* still hope to reference Phineas and Ferb in some of their scattered future projects, the show’s final episode aired four days ago on June 12th, and for some fans the shock still hasn’t quite worn off yet.

     *    (You have to admit, those names just automatically denote the perfect team.)

The Plot

     As you might have guessed from the theme song at the beginning of the article, this show takes place largely during the summer (except for a few scattered Halloween and Winter specials).

     Each section of airtime usually features a pair of back-to-back episodes, centering around Phineas and Ferb: two step-brothers who plan on making the most out of every summer day.

     However, while the average kid might just make a normal little lemonade stand, these boys prefer something a bit more challenging… like building the world’s best roller-coaster, or sending cows into space.

     While the boys and their hilarious group of young friends get entangled into all sorts of shenanigans, their older sister Candace often discovers what they’re up to and will go to any lengths to tattle on them.

     Meanwhile, the family pet — a platypus named Perry — often goes missing. 

     Because unbeknownst to his family, Perry is actually moonlighting as a secret agent!

     His arch-nemesis is an evil scientist named Heinz Doofenshmirtz, who has a slew of maniacal plots, convoluted machines, and tragic backstories longer than my arm.

     As the two adversaries battle out their differences, Doofenshmirtz’s machines are often destroyed or go missing. Unbeknownst to anyone, those machines are usually involved in erasing whatever project Phineas and Ferb cooked up for the day… leaving Candace with no evidence to show their mother!

The Appeal

     As previously stated, creators Mire and Swampy wanted a comedy show for the whole family that was actually good, clean fun. The impressive thing is, they delivered!

"Yes... yes, we did."
     Phineas and Ferb makes fun of society and itself with tongue-in-cheek innocence.  It includes plenty of running jokes about teenaged crushes

     …herd mentality, and how un-perfect giving a planned speech usually is if you’re an evil villain.

     Not only that, but it centers around the power of childlike wonder and imagination, which encourages young viewers to boldly try new things even if they sound ridiculous.

     Another powerful factor in the show is the positive way it portrays humanity as a patchwork quilt. It features characters who are introverted, extroverted, kids, teens, adults, divorced parents, mixed races, multiple religions, and everything in-between — and all of those relationships are viewed without any discrimination or resentment (a little like Arthur from PBS in the 1990s).

     Phineas and Ferb, though step-brothers, are practically inseparable. They still love their sister unconditionally, despite how desperate she is to get them in trouble. Two of their peers, Baljeet and Buford, begin as a nerd-and-bully duo who grow into close friends as the summer goes by. 

     Rather than being notoriously evil through and through, Dr. Doofenshmirtz often battles with his conscience as he goes through with his plans (which leads to notoriously-ridiculous bipolar monologues). Agent Perry is a respectful, gentleman-like opponent who listens patiently to Doofenshmirtz and sometimes even goes the extra mile to lend Doof a hand when he’s struggling.

     Furthermore (because yes, the good stuff just keeps coming), Phineas and Ferb’s crossovers with Marvel and Star Wars are positively priceless. Both episodes claim not to be canon parts of either franchise, but they actually fit in perfectly around the timelines of the other shows and don’t interfere with their established plots!

The Rating

     This show is almost definitely G.

     Violence: There’s a little slapstick comedy, and Perry does sometimes thwart the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz with actual fist-fights or kung-fu. However, it should be noted that even though they're enemies during the workday, Doof and Perry still mind their manners around one another otherwise. They actually have a very strong ironic relationship.

     Other than that, you really only need to be concerned if your children have access to large amounts of scrap metal and welding tools. This show might inspire them to try and shoot themselves into space with some cows.

     Sex: Some teen and adult characters share kisses, but they’re all in loving and committed relationships (even the teenagers), and it’s an impressive positive message.

     Language: Except for a kid’s occasional “shoot,” or “darn,” the show is so clean it could practically pass for soap!

The Genre

     The show originated as a basic colorful comedy. Not too far in, one episode featured a song that the boys wrote to achieve their goal of the day, which was to be a “one-hit-wonder” band. Viewers actually adored the song so much that Phineas and Ferb expanded to include anywhere between one and three catchy songs per day. Fortunately, they all still remained highly satirical.

     There are occasionally some slightly-heavier episodes, which can deal with the struggles of children with divorced parents or anxious teenagers who accidentally messed up their relationships. Fortunately, the conflicts are all dealt with in a healthy way and with enough comedy to keep the show from getting weighed down.

     So is it worth it?

The Decision

     That depends on you. The exceedingly-simple animation may not seem appealing, and I’m honestly not sure whether watching one single episode will clue you in to how genius Phineas and Ferb actually is. If you have any fans in your life, they’ll probably be more than happy to recommend certain episodes if you’re worried about getting caught up.

     And the good news is that, as a general rule, most of the episodes can usually make sense on their own.

     -The Traditional Beginning
     Episode 1 of Season 1: “Rollercoaster”
     Naturally, if you wish to start at the beginning, this is where it all started. ‘First’ episodes are made to induct viewers into the show, so you can watch them without fear of not understanding anything. In this episode, the boys build... well, I bet you already know what they build.

     -The Best Stand-Alone Episodes
     There are almost too many to list, which is why you might be better off asking a friend.

     Some of my personal favorite episodes are:

     Episode 3 of Season 1: “Flop Starz”
     In which the show featured its first big musical number, because the boys decided to try and become “one-hit-wonders.”

     Episode 21 of Season 1: “It’s About Time!”
     In which the boys fix a time machine and accidentally get stuck in the wild with dinosaurs!

     Episode 22 of Season 1: “Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together!”
     In which Candace must actually help her brothers come up with the perfect anniversary gift for their parents.

     Episode 27 of Season 2: “Bubble Boys”
     In which the boys try and make the perfect bubble-blowing machine. This episode may not appear particularly special at first glance, but that's where Episode 28 comes in

     Episode 28 of Season 2: “Isabella and the Temple of Sap”
     In which we see the character Isabella and her team of Fireside Girls fetching materials for Phineas during the events of “Bubble Boys.”

     This episode was one of my first, and it’s especially hilarious because it works as a parallel to the usual show. For example, rather than seeing Perry work as a spy against Dr. Doofenshmirtz, this episode shows Isabella’s chihuahua Pinky going up against the maniacal Professor Poofenplotz.

     Episode 37 of Season 2: “Christmas Vacation”
     In which the boys are preparing for Christmas, only to discover that an unfortunate series of events (involving Dr. Doofenshmirtz) may prevent Santa from coming to their city entirely!

     Episode 54 of Season 2: “Summer Belongs to You!”
     In which the boys take a hilarious trip around the world to try and stretch out the longest day of summer.

     Episode 22 of Season 4: “Mission Marvel”
     In which one of Doofenshmirtz’s machines actually affects some of the Marvel heroes up in New York, which draws both the heroes and the villains to the source of the disturbance!

     Episode 41 of Season 4: “Star Wars”  *
     In which the boys are the happy neighbors of Luke Skywalker on Tatooine…

     but when they get entangled in the conflict between the Empire and the rebels, they must decide to do with the Death Star plans that have fallen into their laps!

     *   I have this episode on DVD, and I honestly love it even more than the Star Wars prequels! It is canon to me.

     Fan-Made Trailers
     And if you’re still on the fence, just give it time. There are plenty of trailers on Youtube that might interest you if you’re more of a visual person (like myself), from the original preview for the entire show to the trailers advertising Mission Marvel and Star Wars. They’re all fantastic tastes of what the show has to offer. This commercial for Across the Second Dimension is a pretty great sample of the overall show, too!


     In the end, I’d recommend that you watch at least two or three episodes to get an idea of how clever the show really is. It’s a perfect blend of snarky satire with innocent idealism, and sometimes there’s no better way to unwind after a long day. Seeing the show come to an end may feel like a travesty, but I think there’s something poignant about the fact that the last episode aired in early June, and not in August or September. Phineas and Ferb is the show that reminds us to greet everybody with a smile, and make the most out of every day that we have… especially summer vacation.


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