"Phineas & Ferb: The Fast and the Phineas" is 2 Fast, Kinda Phunny
Young Phineas Flynn and his stepbrother Ferb are two bored kids in the suburbs, looking for diversion during summer break. This doesn’t distinguish them from other kids, but while some kids would be satisfied with summer camp or trips to the pool, Phineas and Ferb tend to be a bit more inventive, in both metaphorical and physical ways. Their idea of summer fun is to build a gigantic haunted house, trick out mom’s station wagon to win a NASCAR race, or fabricate a time machine out of a museum display. Welcome to the world of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, a new TV show receiving its first home video release with The Fast and the Phineas. It’s messy, derivative, and often overwhelmed by its own manic sensibilities, but it still manages to draw at least a few laughs per episode. It’s also difficult to be too critical of a show that seems to be trying so hard.
The Fast and the Phineas features five episodes of the show that get better as they go. Phineas is the idea man, while the (mostly) silent Ferb supplies the engineering know-how. The boys’ nemesis, if it’s even worthwhile to call her that, is their sister Candace, whose obsession with getting her brothers in trouble with Mom is matched only by her obsession with the dreamy boy next door, Jeremy Johnson. Forming the third leg of the show’s triangle is Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry, who has a secret life as an elite super-spy locked in a never-ending battle with the mad scientist Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Occasionally, the Perry vs. Doofenshmirtz story crosses over into Phineas and Ferb’s misadventures, but many of the earlier episodes of the show don’t manage to do a very good job of balancing the two stories. And while there’s a grand tradition of non-sequitur humor in animation, it’s truly puzzling what Perry the secret agent is doing in this show in the first place. It’s one of many elements that gives away the show’s “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” attitude.
Like many TV shows, Phineas and Ferb takes a bit of time to really figure out what sticks. The earliest episodes of the show are way too manic for their own good, never giving a gag enough time to develop a proper laugh before ripping off to the next one, and refusing to sit still for any length of time. The show doesn’t manage to rein in its madcap energy until around midway through this disc, but it does become noticeably better for it. Each 22-minute episode is usually split into two separate, unconnected stories, with 2 of the 5 episodes on this disc being extended two-parters. The show does far better as single stories. Phineas and Ferb is one of the most densely-written cartoons on the air, with any given episode so jam-packed with visual and verbal gags that they feel much longer than their 11-minute run time. Watching one episode can be a somewhat draining experience, so trying to keep up for a double-length story stops being fun and starts being work a bit too quickly. It’s also hard to escape the sense that the show seems to have been created by throwing a bunch of successful cartoons into a blender set to “puree,” even if it manages some genuine laughs along the way.
One of the show’s more enjoyable elements is the original songs that are showcased in each episode. It’s a remarkable achievement that the show can manage two original songs per episode at all. The fact that the songs manage to be relevant to each episode and are generally the funniest elements of the show is icing on the cake. They’re also often used in amusing video sequences, like the dream Phineas and Ferb have in “Are You My Mummy” about what sorts of things they would do with a mummy, or the video montage in “Raging Bully” where Evander Holyfield trains Phineas to fight a bully, as the bully trains in a rather specialized gym.
Like many of Disney’s TV shows on DVD, The Fast and the Phineas is a pretty bare-bones release. The episodes are presented in their original full-frame format with a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack. The show looks fine, although this isn’t too difficult considering the relatively limited animation of the show. It suffers from one of the most annoying problems of TV-on-DVD, since it has only one chapter stop per episode. The special feature is essentially a bonus episode, as show creator Dan Povenmire presents the storyboards for the original pitch that sold the show to Disney. Other than that, the only other feature is one of the usual DVD activities that every reviewer feels compelled to mention and which nobody ever actually seems to play.
At best, Phineas and Ferb can be described as a combination of Pinky and the Brain and Family Guy for the short-pants set, but with most of the sharp edges and more subversive elements carefully filed down to meet Disney’s standards. I’m sure the target audience will love it, and companion adults can find something to enjoy about it too if they look hard enough. Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that Phineas and Ferb is the animation equivalent of cotton candy—a sweet little bit of nothing that you can’t even remember consuming 10 minutes after the fact.