Oh, there you are, Perry… on Disney+. The streaming platform has been the host to a handful of original programming since it launched last November, and now it brings a new milestone: its first original, feature-length animated film. Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against The Universe revives the mammoth Disney Channel hit for the perfect quarantine pick-me-up in a way that couldn’t have been anticipated during its production.
Phineas and Ferb first debuted in 2007 and quickly became a runaway success for Disney Television Animation. Its frenetic, hyperbolized, cartoony canvas depicted the same basic formula for nearly every episode: It’s a summer day, creative genius brothers Phineas and Ferb build something outrageous in their backyard, their sister Candace attempts to bust them to no avail on the verge of hysteria, and meanwhile their pet platypus Perry sneaks off to be a secret agent and thwart the plans of the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Its magic lied in its inventive repetition. Each episode existed within the same basic framework, yet moved at such a fast pace with visual gags and clever scriptwriting alike that made it an embodiment of the power of animation.
Here in Candace Against the Universe, five years may have passed in the real world since Phineas and Ferb went off the air in 2015, but the story is set within the same summer as the rest of the series. The timeline is inconsequential and shouldn’t be stressed over too much, which is a departure from most “revival” movies that focus on a beloved, retired franchise. In direct contrast to projects like, say, The Muppets (2011) or even to an extent Disney+’s own High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (2019), this new Phineas and Ferb doesn’t jump us forward an entire generation in the story and pay nostalgic homage to its roots. Instead, it’s simply a continuation of the same-old, same-old, but in this case that’s perfectly fine and exactly what it should be.
The tale begins seemingly like any typical episode of the series, Phineas and Ferb having created a huge contraption and Candace attempting to bust them. She contemplates her ongoing turmoil; the universe has seemed to be against her all summer long. Things go awry quickly when Candace is beamed into outer space and told she’s the “chosen one” of an alien species. Phineas, Ferb, and the gang, teaming up with Dr. Doofenshmirtz to rescue her. It bears heavy resemblance to Toy Story 2, Candace in the place of Woody, but that’s forgiven for the sheer thrill of being back with these characters for a free movie that gets nearly everything right and brings joy to families in the middle of a global pandemic.
And speaking of… without giving too much away, parts of the story feel like direct metaphors to the coronavirus. Surely this has to be a coincidence considering the timeline of an animated movie’s production (years) and the sequence of events concerning the pandemic (since last March), but the symbolism is uncanny.
Beyond that, though, Candace Against the Universe hits the sweet spot for the type of content Disney can leverage phenomenally on a platform like Disney+. This is something that probably wouldn’t have been made if the streaming platform didn’t exist. With Disney+, the studio can (and will) continue to unearth past successful franchises that have long since been put to rest, even some that aren’t particularly ancient like this one. In the case of Candace Against the Universe, with the source material’s creators and cast onboard for another swing up to bat, there’s little room for error and very little at stake. There is zero chance of box-office embarrassment or tanked Nielsen ratings. It’s a niche project for a narrow audience, but here it doubles as something that can be appreciated by a spectrum far beyond hardcore fans of Phineas and Ferb.
That’s largely thanks to its inclusion of something that was always at the center of the TV series and would potentially be easy to dismiss in the middle of cartoony zaniness: heart. The show has zoomed in on relatable, emotion-charged topics in the past like the nostalgic essence of childhood summer or the bond between humans and pets. Here, the focus is on Candace’s self-worth, a topic surprisingly and welcomly addressed head-on as she faces a struggle of confidence, tracing her external actions back to the root of what internal insecurities they’re manifesting as. It’s some pretty deep stuff.
The nature of Phineas and Ferb was always so fast-paced, and that’s what gave its quick episodes such energy. Almost all of its 136 episodes were split to fit two stories within each half-hour block. The genius was how exaggeratingly quick the narrative moved and how much it could pack into 15 minutes. Because of this, a feature-length movie version of this concept immediately faces a challenge. That being said, the franchise is no stranger to long-form content — its original run boasted nine, one-hour-long specials and a made-for-TV movie in 2011. Some of those were winners, others struggled to stretch to a longer-than-usual length. Perhaps thanks to the absence of interim episodes keeping the characters from being as saturated in our minds as they were when some of those hour-long specials aired, Candace Against the Universe never feels like it shouldn’t have been a movie, and even manages to bring new depth to a cartoon world that would seemingly appear to have run dry of new concepts to explore.
With everything happening within the tense political atmosphere of 2020 and an international health crisis, filmmaking serves a unique function that’s always been part of its purpose, but is heightened now more than ever: Our seeking of movies to provide mental escape and stability that empowers us to take on reality with newfound momentum. Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe is a prime example of that motif, a feel-good reminder that there may have been something pure to come out of summer 2020 after all.