For those curious about my rating system please check this post I wrote several months ago. (CLICK HERE)
I recently watched for the first time Phineas and Ferb (2007-2015). Written by Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, it is one of the most creative and innovative animated shows I’ve watched in a long time. It has a unique episodic structure, catchy music, and underlying fun that is truly enjoyable.
The main characters are two stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb who create daily the most amazing, logic defying structures and inventions. No matter how big in size or scale their projects are, they always finish within the course of a few hours or less. Their sister Candace tries her hardest to prove to her mother they build crazy things every day, but alas their mother never sees it. Nor do they see their pet platypus fighting Dr. Doofensmirtz as a secret agent.
This show takes away the word impossible from any of the fun the children create for themselves. They build a roller coaster across town, a machine to defy the laws of gravity, and even make a giant recreation of the Gordian Knot out of licorice. Though there is nothing magical about what they make, there is an extraordinary feeling to their daily inventions.
I like this message. Children need to know only self-doubt can limit their creativity. So many of the inventions in this world came about because people questioned the “What if. . . ” of what we already know. Phineas and Ferb’s world was truly inspiring because they believed in themselves and life’s possibilities.
The plot structure and purpose of this show is different than any I have come across before. For those who haven’t watched this show before, here is how a traditional episode for this show goes.
Usually, in animated shows, surrounding the main characters is a particular drama or problem they need to solve. For Phineas and Ferb, this isn’t the case, though there are exceptions. As the Youtuber, Nerstalgic put it, “Phineas and Ferb is a deconstruction of modern animated shows.”
Usually, there needs to be an initial conflict within a story to keep an audience engaged. Because this show was so different from how it approached its characters and storyline, it took over sixteen years for it to even air. Directors and animation studios didn’t believe the absence of conflict with its main characters would work, especially with children.
But Phineas and Ferb does work because it shifts its drama and conflict elsewhere. Though the main characters are not as emotionally invested or concerned with consequences or conflicts, other characters like their sister Candace, who always tries to bust them, are invested. The reason for this absence is simple. Somehow in their universe, no matter what happens, Phineas and Ferb will never actually be caught. Nor do they care.
As I watched the show, I thought it was funny how Phineas and his brother Ferb don’t believe they are doing anything wrong. Even though their inventions are fantastic and obviously dangerous for children in the real world, they firmly believe in what they create. Therefore, they never consider what they are doing is dangerous. Their confidence births unimaginable FUN.
Not only is the story structure refreshing, but its humor and language are surprisingly mature. Most of the jokes are actually aimed at adults. Phineas and his brother, along with the other characters, create the fun children can enjoy. Mixed within that structure are jokes, references, and ideas which even most adults don’t thoroughly understand. AND THAT’S OKAY. It works because in this show the creators didn’t dumb down their ideas for its audience. In fact, they believed children were especially smarter than adults give them credit for.
I appreciate this approach because even after children grow up, they can understand different layers within the show. It isn’t one dimensional in how it treats its story, humor, or characters.
I actually learned a lot of new things as I perused the 100+ episodes. I learned what a palindrome is, about the ancient philosopher Nostradamus, and even about scientific laws which somehow escaped me in school once upon a time. It just goes to show there are new experiences in even children’s shows to be explored.
I appreciate the vision Dan Povenmire and Jon Marsh had for this show. They wanted to create a smarter children’s show that didn’t have to rely on raunchy jokes to make it smart or worthy enough for an adult’s attention. In an interview, Povenmire talked about his work on the show Family Guy.
“People think Family Guy is a success because of how raunchy the gags are. I don’t think it would have been a success at all if the timing wasn’t absolutely crystal pitch perfect — if there wasn’t just the right amount of pause before or after the line. Comedy is all about timing and I think that’s what people are responding to”.Interview with Joe Strike, 2008
I agree with him. So much of adult humor relies on shock value and less on wit. Memorable stories don’t need shock value to keeps their audience invested. Story’s with substance and tactful, thoughtful humor is far more engaging and long lasting.
This show also had great musical numbers. Povimire and Marsh were so creative in how they wrote the songs. They wrote songs from multiple musical genres including, rock, doo wap, rap, country, and ballads. Most of these songs are great and added needed flavor and fun to each episode. I looked forward to them as I watched each episode.
As my title states, I think Phineas and Ferb is a masterful example of POSITIVE FUN. Its brilliance isn’t necessarily in its animation or intense action but in how it approached story, humor, and impact. Sometimes the best stories aren’t the ones with the deepest messages but the ones which leave us feeling happy. This show has an energizing effect on me. It makes me want to learn new things, to break beyond the daily molds of my life. I now wonder if I use each day to the fullest.
Truly, this is a wonderful show! I recommend it to all who need to unwind and enjoy good stories, music and humor.