Incredibly juvenile animated sci-fi musical cartoon is just the right level of juvenile for this viewer.
The setup for Disney's long-ish running animated series Phineas and Ferb is that its title characters--brothers who live in the suburbs with their older sister, Candace, their parents, and their pet platypus, Perry--attempting to have the biggest and best summer vacation, usually through constructing all manner of outlandish inventions to entertain themselves. Of course, being preteen inventors who construct Iron Man-style suits, platypus-shaped catapults, baseball mitt guns and the like tends to mean that none of these summer adventures proceeds without a small amount of chaos, but that seems to be part of the show's charm. Their first feature (which aired earlier this month on the Disney Channel) is actually my first exposure to the material, and I have to say that if this is a relative sampling of the series, then Phineas and Ferb is a seriously funny and clever show for both kids and adults.
The movie is planted squarely in the premise but with a twist: in one of the show's running subplots, Perry the platypus secretly moonlights as a spy and here, in rapid succession, his archnemesis, mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz opens a gateway to another dimension conquered by an even more evil version of himself; Perry's secret identity is blown to his owners; and the evil-er Doofenshmirtz launches a campaign to conquer "our" dimension. Cue a lot of frenetic action, alternate-you jokes, musical numbers, and what I presume at the end is a callback to many of the inventions from the series and there's your movie.
As for what really works, the willingness to go completely, shamelessly absurd works in the favor of the creators, who are willing to throw in verbal and visual asides to grab your attention should it flag at any point. Lots of little quick gags involving the boys' inventions and the erstwhile SHIELD-type organization (complete with Nick Fury, here called Major Monogram) litter the script which doesn't go overboard in the pop culture references (at least, no obnoxious, overly-obvious call-outs to anything). The story is surprising, only because it's got so many diversions and asides (a subplot involves the sister, Candace, becoming convinced that some mystical force disappears the boys' inventions before their parents can see them). So by the end, the heroes will win, the villain will lose, and friendships will become restored (as these things tend to shake out) but the details are what make this a winning prospect.
Execution, as such things go, is everything, and I wasn't too surprised to find out that the minds behind Phineas and Ferb are Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, both of whom did time on the classic Nickelodeon show, Rocko's Modern Life. That series--ostensibly a series of goofy adventures about a cartoon wallaby trying to make it in the big city--was wall-to-wall grown-up humor about displacement, loneliness, and frustration in kid's show wrapping.* While the biting nature of Rocko isn't quite present here (Phineas and Ferb is a broader thing than that) it remains aware that grownups are watching this alongside adults with a sense of humor. Much of that comes from simple turns of phrase or a bit of the absurd that may simply sound funny to younger ears but has a harder edge for the older viewers.
The "funny for adults and kids" humor is different here than the "funny for adults and kids" humor found in shows like Adventure Time or The Regular Show, both of which skew older and darker, although I can imagine Phineas and Ferb fans getting a couple of years on them and discovering these two shows.
The real gem here is the bonus episode included on the disc with the character commentary, which is pretty terrific from start to finish. Major Monogram and Dr. D. riff about the events of the episode with lots of asides to memories of who was doing what in the episode, how criminally understaffed the carnival in the episode appears to be, and Monogram's short-lived romance with a fashion designer. At about 15 minutes, the schtick doesn't have a chance to wear out its welcome.
8 Deleted Scenes – “Mysterious Force,” “Doof’s Lair,” “Vanessa Meets Doof,” “Blimp Ride,” “Memory Wipe,” “Danville Newscast,” “Inventions Revealed” and “Robot Riot Extended”
Animatin’ Music Video – a behind-the-scenes music video performance by Co-Creators/ Executive Producers Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh
Perry-oke – a sing-along feature that allows viewers to sing along to the on-screen lyrics
Dr. D’s Jukebox-inator – an on-screen jukebox that allows users to play all eight digital music tracks from their home entertainment system
Bonus Episode “Attack of the 50 Foot Sister” – a bonus episode with character and creator commentary
*The 90's was an incredible period for kid's entertainment aimed at adults. I remember that it became such a trend that The Maxx creator Sam Kieth called it out in an issue of his series, decrying it as a sort of triumph of irony that was poisonous for kids. To the contrary, I think the brief wave of programming--while yes, heavily ironic in the body of their stories--always (or at least more often than not) made room for the sentimental.
Phineas and Ferb The Movie is on shelves now.