"Phineas and Ferb: Across The 2nd Dimension": Awesomeness Squared
In the past I’ve written highly positive reviews of Phineas and Ferb. However, I have to be honest: over the last year or so my interest in the series has waned. I started watching early in the show’s second season, and although I quickly started loving it, possibly I over indulged. Soon enough, even the way it knowingly lampshaded its own formula wasn’t enough to keep me from becoming bored with it, and so I barely paid any mind to the new season or the ‘Summer Belongs To You’ special.
However, many friends continued to watch it. They had similar misgivings, and have imploringly asked if the new special ‘Across the 2nd Dimension‘ reminded me of why I had enjoyed the show in the first place.
One of the much-hyped episodes of season two was “Phineas and Ferb’s Quantum Boogaloo,” in which Candace uses a time machine to bust the pair in the very first episode, thereby unwittingly setting off a chain of events that allows Doofenshmirtz to become ruler of the world. The potential for such a plot was obvious, so some were disappointed at how little time the episode spent exploring the dystopia and its possibilities. Presumably the production team felt the same way, as this movie seems to treat that episode as a trial run.
Things kick off when an accident sends the boys crashing into Doofenshmirtz and his latest “-inator”: a device that allows travel to parallel universes. Little realising the danger, the two fix the flawed device. This sequence is one of the more awkward in the film, with introductory dialogue between the characters that sounds almost like it was lifted from fan fiction.
The device then connects to a world where a second Doofenshmirtz has succeeded in his ambitions, ruling the Tri-State Area and treating the citizens like cattle. This is where things really get going, as our Doof is eager to impress his counterpart, who is clearly more competent and sinister while still retaining the comedic edge the character is known for.
Having already accomplished his goals of domination and defeating his native version of Perry (and transformed him into a cyborg enforcer), the alternate Doof quickly proceeds to demonstrate to his guests the truth that has always been right in front of them by forcing Perry into action to save the boys. This creates one of the central conflicts in the movie, as Phineas is angered that the secret has been kept from them all this time. Whilst it does get dragged out a bit too far, it’s not milked as badly as some other movies do with the ‘Liar Revealed’ concept, and it’s nice to see a break from Phineas’ usual consistently positive attitude. Where it didn’t really work for me is Perry himself.
I should be upfront and say I’m not really a fan of the character. I know many fans, especially younger ones, love Perry and consider him the face of the show. But I find him so lacking in actual character that to me he’s just a prop for Doofenshmirtz, and I’m often reminded of more well rounded silent characters like Aardman’s Gromit. The script itself can’t avoid this pitfall, as at one point the AI of Perry’s computer is required to flat out state his motivations and feelings. Perry is key to the formula and plot of this movie, but rather then reinforce our affection for him it just highlights that he needs to be better written and developed.
Meanwhile, Candace finds herself wishing to be seen as an adult due to her year-older boyfriend Jeremy preparing for the eventual move to college. When the boys’ earlier created invention vanishes before she can reach it, Candace takes this as a sign of adulthood. Believing that the ‘mysterious force’ that always removes her brothers’ inventions before adults can see is now acknowledging her as such, she attempts to communicate with it in hopes of vindication. Running contrast to this is the alternate Candace, who was forced to behave like an adult long before she was ready in order to protect her sheltered brothers. The theme of not wishing away your childhood is obvious, but the subplot also explores the deeper emotions of both Candaces. She’s usually depicted as the butt of the joke or an antagonist, but here we get to see that the root of her obsessive need to bust the boys is out of genuine concern for their safety.
Alternates of many other characters appear and generally they’re used well. A lot of comedy series in various media have tried to do a ‘bad future/alternate dimension where things went wrong’ and haven’t really managed the jump, feeling either inconsistent with the regular tone or taking themselves too seriously. Whilst this movie picks up more drama because of how bad things have gone in the other universe, the alternate characters are still clearly comic. Alternate Buford in particular is a fitting send-up of science fiction resistance fighters.
The final act of the movie is a full-octane treat for long time fans. I don’t want to give too much away, but as the movie enters the final lap it finds a very cool way to reward those who have watched as many episodes as they could. It’s an epic good vs. evil battle done in the way only this show could, complete with sharp humour and a soundtrack courtesy of Love Handel.
The animation is inconsistent, though only because it is so good in spots. At its worst the animation is clearly a cut above the general series’ animation, with increased fluidity. However, when things really get going it’s easily competing with a full-on theatrical feature. These sequences boast incredible depth and complexity, to the point I have to wonder if the project was originally intended for cinemas but switched to TV at some point. Specials often get increased budgets but the level seen here is amazing for something made for television.
The humour is consistently excellent. It treats us to a lot of good jokes, be it the banter between the two Doofenshmirtzes, some knowing self-parody (such as a reference to the long-held fan opinion that the Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc. building resembles Ferb’s head) or a well-timed line that seems to come out of nowhere. The key guidelines for the humour seem to be wit and intelligence. Matt Groening once said that with The Simpsons the average viewer would get 50% of the jokes whilst an intelligent viewer would get 100% of them. This is a mantra Povenmire and Marsh seem to have taken with them. Although there are jokes about things as silly as sock puppets, we also get a great set of jokes about existential philosophers. Name me another kids’ show which is making jokes like that.
Other then humour, songs are the other obvious element to look at. Things get rolling quickly with the 70’s inspired ‘Everything’s Better With Perry’, an intentionally cheesy ballad about how much more enjoyable even the most trivial of things are with the platypus. The Doofenshmirtzes get a duet (or is that a solo?), ‘A Brand New Best Friend (And It’s Me),’ and as usual it’s one of the most hilarious, covering the newly met pair discovering how similar they are and revealing a whole new level of neurotic paranoia. The rest of the songs are the show’s usual brand of dominating ear worm. If you aren’t quoting actual dialogue, you’ll probably find yourself addicted to singing at least one of them.
Aside from ‘Perry-oke’ sing-alongs for the songs, the extras provided on the DVD consist of deleted scenes and a bonus episode with commentary. The deleted scenes are some of the more interesting ones I’ve seen for a production. I don’t want to spoil the fun of watching these yourself, but they cover such things as an answer for where Vanessa Doofenshmirtz was in both realities and a slightly longer version of the big final battle. All the deleted scenes are led into by a few seconds of relevant footage from the finished production, helping to better place where they would have gone in the story. They would all have been cool to have seen in the final film but I can also see why they weren’t used. One scene, for example, is an alternate take on a big reveal which spells out what is happening. The version used in the film makes a stronger impact, as your brain comes to its own realisation. The stand out for most will likely be a new Candace song which summarises how the boy’s inventions vanish before she can bust them. It’s a decent tune but the movie works fine without it. Lastly, there’s a minor gag shown here that pokes fun at a scene transition in a way that crossed my mind whilst watching the main feature. The levels this series is willing to explore for humour is great.
The bonus episode is ‘Attack of the 50-ft Sister’, in which Candace uses a stolen growth formula to qualify as a beauty model but soon finds it to have more powerful effects then she expected. This was actually one of the first episodes I saw, fittingly adding to my personal re-evaluation of the show as a whole. It still holds up fairly well, with the boys generally relegated to support, as Candace’s new height is exploited by others rather instead of being subjected to the tired ‘character grows super big and is mistaken for an attacking monster’ plot countless other cartoons have used.
The commentary track, however, is sadly lacking. It’s hosted by creators Povenmire and Marsh along with one of the writers and clearly lacks direction. Things start off with a few fairly well- known pieces of trivia, such as where Ferb’s name came from, before quickly ceasing to provide real insights. The three are soon forced to admit that they basically did no preparation for the commentary, mis-crediting a guest performance from Frank Welker, and eventually resorting to spelling out the moral of the episode. Commentary tracks always tend to be a gamble and sometimes anecdotes are fun to listen to, but the admitted lack of preparation just makes this a waste of time and a non incentive to purchase the disc. I’m especially surprised since both creators have been vocal about Disney releasing full season sets of the show.
Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across The Second 2nd Dimension reminded me exactly why I became a fan of the show. The production team bring their A game, combining humour, animation and music into one giant adventure that is too big for a regular episode and a fitting thank you to the legions of loyal fans. In fact, so fitting is it that I’m left a bit confused by the recent news that a full-on theatrical feature is in the works. After this, what’s left to do?
As a DVD it’s an acceptable release, but it’d be nice to see a few more extras that acknowledge the older fans. In particular: better prepared commentary tracks. Overall, though, I heartily recommend it. Not got anything to watch? Friend, I know what you’re gonna do today…