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"Phineas and Ferb": Lots of "Summer", Not Much of a "Daze"

by on February 23, 2009
 

I don’t think any show has given me as many mixed feelings as Phineas and Ferb. It’s created by an animation veteran of Rocko’s Modern Life and Family Guy (who in this series has also partnered with one of his Rocko writing colleagues), so I kind of expected it to be witty, if not especially daring in sneaking suggestive material under the radar. But in many ways it represents the worst kind of animation being produced nowadays. And yet its appeal is such that I can’t fully hate it. Such are the feelings Phineas and Ferb: The Daze of Summer aroused in me.

The show’s premise has stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb— Wait a minute. “Stepbrothers”? Like The Replacements, the show deals out detailed background information without bothering to elaborate upon it. Anyway, the stepbrothers like to come up with various schemes, ideas, and inventions to make the most of their summer vacation. In most of the episodes, Phineas’ sister, Candace, tries to expose their mostly innocuous escapes to their parents, mostly to no avail. On top of this, Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry, is a secret agent who is assigned to stop various “evil” schemes by Dr. Doofenschmirtz, a mad-scientist type who is even more pathetically ineffectual than the normal cartoon bad guy.

The result is the most formulaic cartoon I’ve seen in some time, with the vast majority of episodes following a basic template of set-ups and consequences. I wish I could say that is the worst aspect of Phineas and Ferb, but the show is animated “fluff.” There’s no substance, and very little wit. Being charitable, I could say there’s one medium-sized laugh in every half-hour on this DVD. It’s not that the plots are weak; there are rather creative ideas at play. For example, in one episode, the boys pitch a toy idea to a success-starved toy company: a wooden doll of Perry. (In fact, their ads bill the toy as an “inaction figure”.) But the execution is so vanilla that actual funny moments are much rarer than they should be, given the inventiveness of the concept. The Perry segments are the most bland. Not only is Doofenschmirtz a considerable step down in competence from Dr. Drakken, Shego, and the rest of The Disney Channel’s collective Rogues’ Gallery, he’s not even very funny. Perry isn’t very funny either, and Perry’s tries at foiling Doofenschmirtz’s plans are generally just a waste of a couple of minutes in a show that can’t really afford more filler.

But the show does have a certain charm that makes it impossible to dismiss altogether. The character designs are very appealing, being nice variations on the geometrical shapes that have dominated cable cartoon designs this decade. Phineas and Ferb themselves are well-meaning characters who are significantly less grating than many Nick and Cartoon Network protagonists. When the Perry-Doofenschmirtz stories do work, they’re pretty tolerable. (My favorite has Perry going undercover to a villain’s convention as Doofenschmirtz’s role model. This builds up to a battle inside giant robot versions of a dragon and Queen Elizabeth I). The funniest moments of the show are pretty much on par with the best Rocko material. For instance, an allergic reaction to a plant causes Candace’s voice to become several octaves lower, so that her attempts to rat out Phineas and Ferb result in an ersatz blues song.

The sole bonus feature on the DVD is a special interactive game where you have to assist Phineas and Ferb, Doofenschmirtz, or Candace with their Science Fair projects. These are very basic interactive games that mostly involve choosing the best out of three or four choices, mostly within a certain amount of time. Kids might like it, but I’d be hard-pressed to say it is a very substantial bonus feature.

Even though Phineas and Ferb is, overall, mediocre, it might grow on you; it grew on me a little. Certainly, it must have some things in its favor to explain its currently popularity on the Disney Channel. In spite of it’s paltry bonus features, I would recommend this DVD to fans of the show.




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