Phineas and Ferb: Glory Days Are Here Again

Published on January 30th, 2011 in: All You Need Is Now, Cartoons, Comedy, Current Faves, Issues, TV |

By Cait Brennan

Everything was better when we were kids. Ask anybody.

phineas and ferb

When we were kids, we’d watch cartoons not knowing we were staring at future classics. Rapid-fire dialog would zoom over our heads; we’d laugh at the antics and zingers, all the while getting the faint but persistent impression there was much more there than what met the eye.

Our parents, watching in the background, would burst out laughing for reasons totally unknown to us. That is, until years later when you’d rewatch Bugs Bunny or Rocky and Bullwinkle and say, “I can’t believe they got away with that.” There was a brief renaissance in the early ’90s as Animaniacs spawned a new generation of smart, edgy animation, but much of that energy eventually evolved into “adult” cartoons like Family Guy. As children’s entertainment has become more shrill, calculated, and commercial—and ever more sanitized and toothless—it’s natural to long for the days when animated TV could be child-friendly but still irreverent, whip-smart, boundary-expanding fun.

Pine no more, my friends. I give you Phineas and Ferb. It’s the kid-friendly Venture Bros., a richly imagined world steeped in breathtakingly complex relationships, thought-provoking references, and deeply funny humor that rewards multiple viewings.

lawrence and linda

The show centers on two stepbrothers, Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, who build colossal inventions in order to make the most of every day of their summer vacation. Candace, the boys’ older sister, is outraged that Phineas and Ferb’s wild contraptions and audacious schemes go unnoticed, and spends all of her energy attempting to “bust” them—hoping to convince their oblivious mother to catch the boys and put a stop to their endless creativity. But the boys’ inventions always seem to mysteriously disappear just before mom pulls in the driveway. Phineas is the upbeat idea man, handling organization (with the help of a diverse team of friends), while engineering genius Ferb oversees construction. The British-born Ferb speaks only rarely, but when he does it’s usually a devastating quip that brings down the house.

The three kids are part of a blended family: mom Linda was an ’80s pop star called Lindana, whose one Tiffany-esque hit (“I’m Lindana And I Wanna Have Fun”) has become an elevator-music staple; father Lawrence (voiced by Rocky Horror‘s Richard O’Brien) is an eccentric antiques dealer from the UK who later becomes a one-hit pop star himself (as “Max Modem,” a sharp Gary Numan send up complete with Riff-Raff’s space-commander outfit.)

The weird and wonderful “B” story centers on the conflict between frustrated evil super scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz and Perry, Phineas and Ferb’s indolent pet platypus. Perry is in actuality a crime-fighting secret agent with a double identity—the Jason Bourne of platypuses. Doofenschmirtz’s grandiose weaponry usually ends up inadvertently destroying all evidence of the boys’ handiwork, though the boys are blissfully unaware of his existence and see Perry as a beloved, if inert, “mindless domestic pet.”

doofenschmirtz and perry

Like everything on Phineas and Ferb, Doofenschmirtz’s character is richly layered; almost all of his schemes are associated with some “emotionally scarring back story,” rendered in sepia-toned flashback as his cruel parents force him to work day and night as a garden gnome, or wear ball gowns to school every day for a year. As a result of these traumas, Doof schemes to rule “the entire Tri-State Area” by, say, trying to crush the city with his “carbon footprint”—a gigantic mechanical foot covered in carbon paper, which he’d been saving since the 1970s. His back stories and fiendish plans are often laid out in big chorus-line musical production numbers that don’t dumb anything down: in an alternate future where he’s the ruler of the Tri-State Area, he sings “Everyone else is a proletariat, and baby I’m the bourgeoisie!” advising befuddled kids to “look it up, Joe!”.

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One Response to “Phineas and Ferb: Glory Days Are Here Again”

  1. Popshifter » How You Can’t Do That On Television Changed Kids’ Television:
    July 30th, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    […] the least). However, YCDTOT left resonances. It paved the way for future kids’ shows such as Phineas And Ferb in the sense that it straddled the thin line between adult black comedy and sheer childlike […]

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