Like “Pinky and the Brain,” each episode of “Phineas and Ferb” begins the same way, with the two main characters wondering what to do. But rather than trying to take over the world in every episode as those lab mice did time and again, the boys use their imaginations to expand their world in order to make their 104-day summer vacation more fun. They create and construct outrageous things. If they think it, they can do it. An animal translator? No problem, They create one in their backyard, which helps them communicate with their pet platypus, who just happens to be a secret agent.
This hybrid animated Disney Channel show draws inspiration from a number of different shows. In addition to a little “Pinky” and “Simpsons” madness, it also has the zaniness and fluid leaps in logic of “The Fairly Oddparents,” and a conceptual structure that’s reminiscent of another popular Disney Channel show, “Kim Possible.” Like that series, “Phineas and Ferb” offers a mixture of spy stuff and teen angst, with another random animal tossed into the mix. Instead of a naked mole rat, it’s a platypus. But in this show, the pet is the secret agent. Just as the boys have their nemesis (big sister Candace), so does Perry the Platypus.
Sound weird? It is, but on the plus side the series celebrates the power of the imagination and revels in every one of those gigantic leaps in logic that defy gravity and provide the infrastructure for every outing. What’s more, creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh seem to like working without a net.
Phineas Flynn (Vincent Martella) and Ferb Fletcher (Thomas Sangster) live with their parents–the seldom-home Linda Flynn (Caroline Rhea) and even more conspicuously absent Lawrence Fletcher (Richard O’Brien)–somewhere in the “Tri-State area.” (It’s Danville, really). The boys get along great and are regular magicians when it comes to the visualization and construction of large-scale projects to make their summer days fun. Nothing is too big or too complicated for them, because if they can imagine it, they can build or do it. In some of these episodes, for example, they stage a backyard rodeo using robotic bulls, they build a sap-powered bubble maker, they construct the world’s largest bowling ball, and they create a shrinking submarine so they can take a “Fantastic Voyabe” inside Isabella’s dog to retrieve a sash that it devoured—and instead end up inside Candace’s stomach of Candace.
Just as the boys have their nemesis, so does secret agent Perry the Platypus (call him “Agent P”): a baddie who’s a little reminiscent of Gargamel from the old “Smurfs” show. The evil Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Povenmire) doesn’t have quite the bite as previous releases, but his Babe-Inator (which reduces Phineas and Ferb to babies) should be a hit with the kids.
The animation is a mixture of geometric shapes (Phineas’s head is a simple triangle), a style that again falls somewhere between harsh angularity of “The Fairly Oddparents” and the softer world of “Kim Possible.” It’s a pleasing-to-watch style that’s totally compatible with the wild inventions, wise-guy writing, and breakneck pacing–especially eyebrows that float like halos above some heads. But what makes nearly every episode click is a running gag that will remind older viewers of the “Bewitched” TV series, where a neighbor who knew darned well that Samantha was making strange things happen next door kept trying to get her husband to look. But every time he would, things would have returned back to normal. The same thing happens here, with Phineas’s older natural sibling Candace (Ashley Tisdale, “High School Musical”) obsessed with trying to get her mother to see the kinds of stunts that her brothers are pulling on a daily basis. And the gag is even funnier transplanted to a situation involving an older sister and troublemaking younger brothers–something that so many kids across America can identify with.
Although this particular collection of episodes didn’t strike me as strong as previous releases, there are still fun moments. “Phineas and Ferb” is a show that older siblings will enjoy watching with younger ones and even parents, who may be reminded of the old “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” shows because of the irreverent, self-conscious style. The show has the same kind of energy too, and offbeat sensibility that stops short of the manic, up-the-pace nonsense that often drives the Cartoon Network shows.
“Phineas and Ferb: The Perry Files – Animal Agents” includes the following episodes:
“Bowl-R-Drama” (Season 1)
“Journey to the Center of Candace” (Season 1)
“Traffic Cam Caper” (Season 1)
“Cheer Up Candace” (Season 2)
“Isabella and the Temple of Sap” (Season 2)
“Robot Rodeo” (Season 2)
“Vanessassary Roughness” (Season 2)
“Agent Doof” (Season 3)
“Lotsa Latkes” (Season 3)
“What’d I Miss?” (Season 3)
“Where’s Perry?” Pts. 1 & 2 (Season 3)
The picture looks sharp for a DVD, with richly hued colors and a nice level of detail for standard definition. Disney’s M.O. has been to release a handful of episodes per DVD, rather than come out with full seasons of its children’s TV shows. Though it’s rated TV-G, more adults would be likely to watch this show than most of the Disney Channel offerings. The aspect ratio, unlike some previous releases, is 1.78:1, “enhanced” for 16×9 television monitors.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 in English, Spanish and French, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. It’s a pretty standard-issue audio, so there’s not much to report.
The big extra on this disc is “Take Two with Phineas and Ferb,” cameos with celebrities doing promos and routines with the characters. Among them is soccer star David Beckham. Also included is a “Spy Kit” that contains, among other paper things, cardboard binoculars that Mom or Dad can assemble.
In an earlier review I called “Phineas and Ferb” one of the most clever cartoons pitched at kids that’s being made today–this generation’s “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It’s offbeat, high-energy, wink-wink humor that adults will find funny too. But this particular collection of episodes didn’t strike me as the best of what the show has to offer.