Since my first three Saturday Morning Reviews were all Cartoon Network shows, I’ve decided to explore a Disney property this week. It is not that I am opposed to Disney or Nickelodeon, it’s just that Cartoon Network has had a pretty strong lineup over the last two years or so and has inspired me. I promise I’ll hit a Nickelodeon show next week (a little hard to do, because Nick has put most of their recent efforts into their fantastic live-action shows [iCarly, Big Time Rush, VicTORIous]).
The Disney (XD, to be precise) show that I will review this week is Phineas and Ferb.
First, I will just come right out and say that I think Phineas and Ferb is probably the best cartoon on television these days, hands down. No sense in waiting until the end to let the cat out of that bag. They have found a straightforward old-fashioned formulaic approach to a cartoon and have not veered from it at all. And it works. That being said, let’s analyze why I think it’s so great.
As I like to do first, I’m going to take a look at the voice acting. As Disney is wont to do, they’ve taken some of their stars from other shows and put them into voice acting roles. In this case, they have done an amazing job. Ashley Tisdale (from the Suite Life) is Candace, the high-anxiety older sister of the two title characters. Mitch Musso (Hannah Montana, Pair of Kings) and Alyson Stoner (Camp Rock) play important recurring roles as well. The big star, Phineas, is played by Vincent Martella (Everybody Hates Chris). This young cast is amazing and has gotten better over time. Martella, especially, has shown a huge growth in his ability if you listen to Phineas from the first few episodes to the present and compare his acting.
The ‘other half’ of the show, the Secret Agent Perry the Platypus portion, is spearheaded by the creators of the show themselves. Dan Povenmire plays Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz and Jeff Marsh plays Major Monogram, leader of the spy agency that inexplicably employs only animals as agents. The fact that the two creators of the show have such an active role speaks volumes for how much they care about this show (they actually shopped P&F for 16 years before they landed a deal) and is probably why they have not deviated from their formula yet. The two of them previously worked together on Rocko’s Modern Life, one of the most underrated Nicktoons from the 90s.
Let’s discuss the formula that I’ve mentioned a few times. Phineas and Ferb come up with a convoluted scheme to have fun for the day. Candace tries to catch them in the act and prove to her mother that she isn’t crazy. Perry the Platypus disappears early on to go fight his nemesis, the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz from taking over the Tri-State Area (or simply completing some sort of petty revenge against some sort of person or inanimate object). In the end, Perry wins the fight and the show ends with some unbelievable deus ex machina wiping away any evidence of Phineas and Ferb’s daily mischief.
That is nearly every Phineas and Ferb episode in a nutshell.
Whether or not they are building a rollercoaster, having a monster truck rally, discovering Atlantis, traveling back to the time of the dinosaurs, creating a portal to Mars, and so on, the formula does not deviate. The show is extremely intelligent and the Phineas and Ferb half of each episode does not dumb anything down. Instead, the Perry vs. Doofenshmirtz half provides the majority of the slapsticky humor one would expect from a Western cartoon. This dichotomy allows the writers to have a lesson on reverse engineering juxtaposed to a grown man and platypus fighting one another on hover jet filled with enough traps to make Freddy Jones jealous.
Another regular element of the show is that each episode includes a song. This works out really well with the young Disney cast as they are all pretty amazing singers as well. Sometimes the songs become the best part of the episode (such as in “Dude, We’re Getting The Band Back Together,” where they reunite their parents’ favorite band from their youth) and sometimes the song is just a humorous add-on to a great gag (such as “Squirrels in my Pants”). Povenmire and Marsh write and perform on most of the songs themselves, another testament to how amazingly hands on these two guys are with their series.
Here’s an example of one of my favorite songs from the show, showcasing Ashley Tisdale and Olivia Olsen (who plays Doofenshmirtz’s goth daughter) and their amazing voices in an R&B style song:
So far, I have yet to see a weak episode in the show and it has only gotten stronger as the years have gone by. The animation and voice acting has improved over the years and the writing has never faltered. Fox, Cartoon Network, and all the other companies that passed on this show (and the Povenmire/Marsh combination) have got to be kicking themselves for letting Disney get their hands on it. Phineas and Ferb are in the process of setting a new bar for modern animation and I am glad to be along for the ride. 5/5 giant cartoon mallets, no doubt.