Phineas And Ferb The Movie: Candace Against The Universe
Last Friday, I had nothing to do at home, but a quick scroll through Disney+ had me going “Hey Ferb, I know what I’m going to do today!” Phineas And Ferb is a delight of a TV show: an animated comedy that straddles the line of “for kids/for adults” and somehow manages to make entertaining lemonade out of formulaic plot lemons. Pick an episode of the TV show and it’s bound to have the same rigid plot elements, catchphrases and resolution as 99% of other episodes. And yet, despite this, you’ll also be hard-pressed to find an episode that doesn’t have at least a few instances of laughter-inducing mayhem/songs/parody/macabre one-liners that can appeal to just about everyone: it doesn’t take long with Phineas And Ferb to sing-along to “Doofenschmirtz Evil In-Cor-Por-At-Eeeed!” The fact that it has been 13 years since its debut is a factoid guaranteed to make anyone of my age feel very, very old.
Feature length spin-offs of the show are inevitable: indeed, there’s already been a few long-form examples that aired on TV. But Candace Against The Universe is the first full-on 90-minute movie from the franchise to get a unique release, this time on the streaming platform. It would be hard to mess this up too badly, but one has to inevitably consider that the show already reached a natural and well-earned endpoint with “Last Day Of Summer” and even a nicely executed epilogue in “Act Your Age”: is there really an artistic space for more? Even a film that makes Candace the main character, for once, would seem to be in danger of being a tired cash-in on already fading relevance. Was I overthinking it, or should the last day of summer really have been the last day of summer?
After trying, and failing, to bust the schemes of her brothers Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr) for the umpteenth time, Candace (Ashley Tisdale) despairs of her place in an unfeeling universe. The chance to be the chosen one on another world offers her life some badly-needed meaning, but new alien best friend Super Super Big Doctor (Ali Wong) has a secret dark side: with the help of their friends Isabella (Alyson Stoner), Baljeet (Maulik Pancholy), Buford (Bobby Gaylor), along with super-villain Dr Doofenshmirtz (Dan Povenmire) and his nemesis secret agent Perry the Platypus, Phineas and Ferb embark on an epic intergalactic quest to save their sister, and the world.
So, to get the obvious out of the way as quickly as possible, I think anybody of a very young age will probably find lots to enjoy in Candace Against The Universe. It’s funny, it’s frantic, it features aliens, it has lots of great songs and a nice positive message to wrap it all up in a bow. Some of the comedy is a little more orientated towards the older crowd, even to a strange meta-narrative extent, but not in a manner that would make the film out of bounds for the younger. Park them in front of this and they will be reasonably distracted for 90 or so minutes. Phineas And Ferb: Kids love it!
Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk a bit more seriously about the film, because there is nothing I like more than hyper-criticism of something made for kids. My main fear was dealt with fairly well. Yes, it is an insert into the already concluded TV show, but, in a manner that made me think of Cowboy Bebop of all things, this is accomplished pretty well: Candace Against The Universe is just an elongated episode of the TV show in terms of structure, but has enough spectacle and uniqueness in it to justify its own existence. That is to say, it is not a cheap cash grab with no thought other than getting a few more Disney+ subscribers in the door.
So there are lots of Phineas and Ferb inventions, a spy adventure featuring Perry the Platypus, a moral lesson and a neat resolution. But Candace Against The Universe manages to buck the problems of formula even while largely adhering to it. It does this through the very thing in the title: by making the long-suffering Candace the main character, for once. Despite its four year run and and hundreds of episodes, it was a rare thing that Phineas And Ferb gave the spotlight to its female characters in any kind of positive way, with Candace stuck resolutely in her role as an unsuccessful foil to her brothers, and others, like the Phineas-crazy Isabella, similarly pigeonholed, for the most part. Candace Against The Universe presents the exact opposite: a largely Candace driven story, where her brothers are essentially a side-plot. And not just that, but a plot where Candace gets the chance to rail against her pigeon-holing, and her own very understandable desire to be seen to be just as special as her genius siblings, even if she also has to learn that her brothers aren’t all bad by the end. It’s like if WB gave the Coyote his own feature.
How we get to the happy family point is suitably zany, but it wouldn’t be Phineas And Ferb without the zaniness, now would it? So we get sequences where Candace celebrates life with her new alien best friend (she’s actually trying to take over the universe: go figure); sequences where a secret agent platypus does an EVA to protect a space ship that has stumbled into an asteroid field; sequences where an alien invasion of a baseball game turns into a downtown chase featuring a fast food truck and a giant mind-controlling plant. There’s aliens whose entire existence is defined by cowardice, a HALO drop into Earth’s atmosphere in a canoe, and a Star Trek knock-off that is momentarily plot pivotal called “Space Adventure”. If nothing else, Candace Against The Universe is rarely boring.
Such nonsense, at times absurdist in its eccentricities, can only be held together with the strength of the wiring, which is great, and with the strength of the people delivering the lines, which is similarly great. Phineas And Ferb, as it did on TV, refuses to talk down to the audience. Baljeet decides that preparing a portal to function will “take at least a montage”, but is happily surprised when all it takes is “a flip wipe”. Perry’s space-walk is to the soulful strains of a 90’s pop-esque piece, whose lyrics acknowledge that Agent P isn’t technically getting a song. The alien denizens have a tendency to explode when too emotionally strained, exhibiting the noise “Candace” when they do so (making for the strangest finale action scene I’ve seen in a while”. And the visualised end credits features a song where the singers wax lyrical on how important it is to have a visualised end credits sequence, to wrap up the story and remind everyone of what they just watched.
The film essentially matches the animation style of the TV show in most respects, though of course the boat has been pushed out a little in terms of the alien planets and a few of the real set-pieces. The cartoony animation remains as endearing as it always was, and we’re long past the point when we might have wondered why Phineas’ head is shaped that way. It’s also nice to see Disney put some heft behind a 2D animated feature. As the TV show learned early on, it is in the music that Candace Against The Universe really soars, with lots of great numbers peppered throughout the running time, including the bi-polar opening effort “Such A Beautiful Day” from Candace (a Beatles-esque ode to positivity that frequently flips into a death metal criticism of her brothers), the character defining “The Universe Is Against Me”, Dr Doofenshmirtz and Isabella’s leadership debate/duet in “Adulting” (the Doctor suggests he should be in charge because “I’ve got this ache in my shoulder, and I keep my medical records in this manila folder”), and Candace’s character journey-ending “Us Against The Universe”, which if it turns out to be the franchise’s last song is an appropriate tribute to family and friendship, alien invaders or no.
Candace Against The Universe doesn’t really serve as a fitting goodbye to Phineas And Ferb (“Act Your Age” and “Last Day Of Summer” already did that really, and are collectively a better feature than this film), and it’s likely success will probably mean that we will get more films out of this property before too long. The good quality stuff has to run out sometime on that score, because it is the Disney way to extend things at least a little bit longer than they really should. But Candace Against The Universe is not that point. It has all of the warmth and humour of the TV show, matched with a plot that at least attempts to freshen things up in one key titular aspect. Great VA, great songs, great animation. Yes, this is a continuation that is not really required, but is as funny as Phineas And Ferb was when it ended. Future generations would be advised to watch this ahead of the end of season four, where it truly fits. Either way, they won’t be let down. Or, to out it another way, am I recommending Phineas And Ferb The Movie: Candace Against The Universe? Yes, yes I am.
(All images are copyright of Disney+).