For six seasons during the run of Phineas and Ferb on the Disney Channel, the titular stepbrothers enjoyed a summer that never ended. Not a pandemic summer that never ended, but a normal break from school that allowed them to get into all sorts of adventures outside their house while somehow never getting busted by their sister, Candace.
Five years have passed since the final episode of Phineas and Ferb was broadcast and, as proven by the new Disney+ movie Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe, debuting Friday, the often silent British boy and the kid with a triangle for a head are still on the same summer break. But in this, the second movie offshoot of the series co-created by Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, Candace (voiced by Ashley Tisdale) finally earns the attention she has always craved. The result is a 90-minute kid- and grown-up-friendly work of cartoon comedy that’s as consistently delightful and clever as the series always was.
Phineas and Ferb provided one of the most consistent examples of callback humor in this young century. In every single episode, and this movie as well, the same things always happen. Phineas announces to Ferb that “I know what we’re going to do today”; the two of them, with assists from their wider circle of friends, invent unfathomable creations in their backyard; and Candace, upon discovering what the boys are up to, announces that they are “so busted,” then tries to get them in trouble with their mom, an effort that invariably fails because all evidence of their elaborate endeavors has disappeared before their mom can see it. Oh, the family also has a pet platypus named Perry who has a secret life as a double agent that enables him to foil the misguided plans of local mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. If any of this sounds too weird to be believable, all I have to say to you is: 2020.
Poor Candace, whose claims have been disbelieved by her parents for 200-plus episodes, may be the most gaslighted character in animated history. That’s why it’s so nice to see her in a slightly different spotlight. The movie opens with a musical number that’s focused entirely around her, in which she alternately celebrates feeling optimistic and unconcerned about her brothers, then goes into a rage over the prospect that they’re probably up to something. Cue Phineas and Ferb being up to something, cue Candace trying to bust them, cue their mother (Caroline Rhea) being completely oblivious to the massive clown robot that turns into dust in their backyard, and cue Mom accusing Candace of lying for the umpteenth time. (I do wonder why Candace doesn’t just take photos or video of what the boys are doing, especially since she has a cell phone. The only reasonable answer is that doing so would ruin Phineas and Ferb, and I have decided to accept that.)
After her brothers actually try to apologize, Candace makes the mistake of thinking that a massive spaceship that lands near their house is another one of their attempts to mess with her. It turns out to be the real thing, something that she and her friend Vanessa (Olivia Olson), daughter of Dr. Doofenshmirtz, don’t realize until they’ve been abducted by aliens with some very specific objectives in mind. Phineas (Vincent Martella), Ferb (David Errigo Jr.), their friends Isabella (Alyson Stoner), Buford (Bobby Gaylor), and Baljeet (Maulik Pancholy), and of course Dr. Doofenshmirtz (Povenmire) all set out to rescue them; Perry (Dee Bradley Baker) hitches a ride into outer space as well, while of course maintaining his undercover status.
In traditional Phineas and Ferb fashion, the animation is bright and colorful, there are plenty of musical interludes, and both the action and the often meta jokes come at a fast but not too frenetic clip. When Phineas asks Baljeet, for example, how long it will take them to build their own spaceship so they can head out in search of Candace, Baljeet advises, “Even if we got the whole gang together, it’s going to take at least a montage.” One montage later, they’re basically ready to go. The beauty of this movie, and the series that preceded it, is that its comic sensibility inherently appeals to both kids and adults. Unlike so much contemporary animation, the Phineas and Ferb franchise never goes out of its way to make a joke that’s “for the grown-ups.” The series and Candace Against the Universe just do their thing with the confidence that it will connect with a broad audience. And it does.
While the movie follows the usual Phineas and Ferb formula, it also builds on those formulas and allows certain relationships to evolve. Without spoiling too much, it also includes one plot element involving spores and mind control that may momentarily jar viewers back into the realities of the 2020 summer that’s currently winding down. But what Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe does most of all is confirm that the world Povenmire and Marsh built isn’t just about the two resourceful boys that gave the series its name. Candace is as crucial as they are, and that’s a fact to which every kid (or adult) who’s ever felt left out can relate. Here’s hoping that their summer, unlikes ours, never has to end.