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Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Phineas & Ferb" trails after the boys of summer

While growing up in Mobile, Ala., Dan Povenmire spent his summer vacation trying to wring every ounce of enjoyment he could from his school-free days. Povenmire’s youthful backyard adventures inspired the breezy Disney cartoon series, “Phineas & Ferb,” which celebrates summer as a time of industrious pleasure-seeking, not lazy goofing off.

Co-created by Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh (both veterans of “The Simpsons”), “Phineas & Ferb” depicts two suburban stepbrothers who happen to be both endlessly optimistic and mechanically ingenious. On a given episode, they’ll devote a day to, say, building a portal to Mars, becoming one-hit wonder pop stars or racing chariots or monster trucks. Their big sister Candace (voiced by High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale) serves as their nemesis by trying to expose their elaborate, often reckless plans, which inevitably become undone before the boys get busted. Since the boys never wish ill will on their short-fused sister, Candace’s misfortunes prove self-inflicted and seldom cross the line to mean-spiritedness.

Each 10-minute story also features a “B” plot in which the boys’ pet platypus, Perry, secretly switches to his guise as fedora-wearing “Agent P” to investigate Dr. Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Povenmire), whose diabolical schemes threaten the Tri-State Area. If you can imagine an upbeat, kid-friendly equivalent to “South Park” or “Family Guy’s” scatter-shot satire, you can get a sense of “Phineas & Ferb” fast-paced sense of fun. Adults will be amused by the musical numbers of nearly every episode. In “Are You My Mummy?” the boys envision having an undead playmate, leading to a sunny tune along the lines of the theme to “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” accompanied by an appropriate montage.

The newest DVD, Phineas & Ferb 2: The Daze of Summer (Walt Disney Video, $19.99, in stores) proves to be frequently amusing, but lacks as many gems as its predecessor, The Fast and the Phineas. At times Povenmire and Marsh seem constrained with the formulaic structure that defines each 10-minute installment and includes such catch-phrases as “Ferb, I know what we’re gonna do today!” and “Curse you, Perry the Platypus!”

As a show “Phineas and Ferb” strikes me as a kindred spirit to Warner Brothers’ “Pinky and the Brain,” which also featured clever jokes that winked at adults and world-conquering schemes that go wrong. Plus, if you watch episodes of each program “in bulk,” the near-ritualistic lines and events can get pretty repetitive. But then, sometimes a goal for summer is for all the days to blur together.

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