Five years after the series finale of Phineas and Ferb, the animated story of two stepbrothers trying to make the most of their summer vacation with outlandish, out-there inventions is still as bouncy, zany, and joyful as ever.
Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe, a new movie on Disney Plus, finds creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, along with almost the entire cast (save for Ferb’s voice actor Thomas Sangster), back for another adventure. This time, the focus is on the inventive boys’ older sister, Candace, as she finds herself on an alien planet where she’s suddenly the center of attention. The movie lines up with the zany hijinks and humor of previous episodes, but reimagined bigger and brighter for the longer runtime, and infuses the franchise all with a touch of modernity and deeper emotion that never feels forced or dated.
[Ed. note: This review contains mild spoilers for Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe]
The one big difference between the series and this movie is what’s at stake. Most Phineas and Ferb episodes followed the pretty simplistic plot of the boys building something wild and wacky and Candace trying to tattle on them. (With, of course, the B-plot of Perry the Platypus trying to thwart evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz from taking over the world.) But the movie gives them a bigger mission: after Candace is abducted by aliens, the boys set out to save her.
It’s not just the rescue mission that ups the ante. Right before Candace finds herself gawking at an alien spaceship, she has an existential crisis about feeling insignificant compared to her brothers. After all, they’re the ones doing the cool, grandiose things and continually outshining her. It’s an emotional thread that the series touches upon from time to time, but it gets fully integrated and interrogated in this movie. Candace’s insecurities come to the forefront. She wants to be special, for once, so when she lands on the alien planet and is heralded as the Chosen One, she finally feels like she belongs somewhere.
Candace has long been maligned within the show and by fans as a stick in the mud, so it’s refreshing to see her get her due diligence. Povenmire and Marsh said that they always felt like Candace was the central character of the show: she’s the one who gets any sort of arc, with the boys’ antics being more plot-driving. With Candace at the helm, the movie homes in on her own insecurities and her relationship with her brothers. It’s the latter that becomes the emotional crux of the movie, something the show did touch on from time to time, but really becomes the focal point in Candace Against the Universe. Overall, Povenmire and Marsh infuse a deeper, introspective side to the otherwise high-energy, effervescent series.
The movie is still chock full of bubbly humor. The show excelled at comedic timing, effectively using beats, cutaway gags, and fourth-wall breaking. The first few episodes of the series played with familiar beats: Phineas always asks “Where’s Perry?”, scout leader Isabella always pops on by and goes “Whatcha doing?”, the creation the boys work always disappears by the time Candace gets their mom’s attention, Doofenshmirtz always traps Perry in some outlandish capture device, etc. The rest of the series uses that framework as a springboard, playing with expectations and dismantling them.
A movie allows for more flexibility and wilder, wackier jokes, making full use of a movie-length run time to build up to great cutaway gags and recurring beats — with a bit of a modern update when necessary. The show premiered in 2007, so 13 years later, the characters sing about “adulting,” floss in the background, and post on their social media feeds — and it’s only natural. The modern gags feel less like the creators trying to stay relevant and more like them relishing in beats and jokes that they weren’t able to do when the series was running.
Candace Against the Universe does everything Phineas and Ferb does and then some. It’s a natural evolution of the show for Disney Plus, relishing in the series’ perfectly timed humor, updating reference points for the fun of it, and adding an emotional layer that resonates.
Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe is streaming on Disney Plus now.