"Mom! Phineas and Ferb are writing a DVD review!"
So what did you do this summer? Watch some movies, go to the beach, visit a museum? Chances are, Phineas and Ferb got you beat. These brothers vowed to make each and every one of the 104 days of summer vacation count; their afternoons were spent building a haunted house, transforming the neighborhood into a beach paradise, traveling back to the dinosaur age, winning a stock car race, and becoming a one-day one-hit wonder with the smash song "Gitchee Gitchee Goo."
The brothers are the stars of the Disney Channel cartoon "Phineas and Ferb," the mad invention of series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh. Marsh and Povenmire's credits include "Rocko's Modern Life," "Spongebob Squarepants," and "Family Guy," and those shows' sense of comic anarchy repeats here, to glorious effect.
Each episode consists of three recurring themes: chatty Phineas (voiced by Vincent Martella) and silent Ferb's (Thomas Sangster) oddball scheme, which always defies logic and sometimes even physics; older sister Candace's (Ashley Tisdale) failed attempts to rat out the boys' doings to their mom (Caroline Rhea); and the adventures of the brothers' pet platypus Perry, who, unbeknownst to the boys, is a superspy called Agent P, eternally foiling the evil plots of mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Povenmire). Each episode ends with Agent P's antics coincidentally undoing the brothers' inventions, just before Candace can bust them. Somewhere along the way, we'll even get a song or two.
A cartoon that sticks this closely to a repeated formula usually doesn't hold up over time, yet somehow "Phineas and Ferb" uses its formula in its favor. How far out can the writers take things yet still manage to tie it all together in the end? How much cartoonish insanity can possibly erupt? And, better still, what wildly complicated idea will the boys concoct today?
The scripts are tight pieces of kid-friendly comedy, built atop clever wordplay ("Boredom is something up with which I will not put," Phineas explains in one episode), mad irreverence (a spelling error on a time machine's manual yields inspired results), and a sturdy knack for running gags (the constant appearance of the Brownies-esque "Fireside Girls" gets better with each repetition).
It all plows ahead with such daredevil speed that a joke wouldn't have time to flop, assuming any of the jokes didn't click. Ah, but all of them do - big, little, broad, subtle, and everything in between - making the series one of the most dependable sources for laughs currently airing on cable.
The series premiered in February and recently wrapped its first season; a second season is on the way.
I've mentioned my dislike of random episode collections before, and I'll mention it again. Instead of gracing us with a full season set (which they never seem to do), Disney has gathered five apparently random episodes (one of which is a not-yet-aired special premiere) for a one-disc release titled "Phineas and Ferb: The Fast and the Phineas." Such releases are too slim to really matter, even when the show's as good as this.
Each 22-minute episode consists of two cartoons. The episodes featured on this disc are:
"One Good Scare Ought to Do It! Part I & Part II" (previously unaired) The boys build a massive haunted house in the backyard in an attempt to cure Isabella of her hiccups. Meanwhile, Candace attempts to hook up with her longtime crush Jeremy, only to run afoul of his wicked little sister. Meanwhile still, Dr. Doofenshmirtz tries to make good on a promise to destroy a colleague's island lair, only to be thwarted by Agent P.
"The Fast and the Phineas" / "Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror!" First up, the brothers trick out the family car and enter a stock car race. Then, the boys build a beach paradise in their backyard, causing Candace to become a luau queen, while Agent P stops a plot to steal all the garden gnomes in the tri-state area. (The title alone wins major awesomeness points.)
"Are You My Mummy?" / "Flop Stars" Phineas and Ferb attempt to find a mummy, only to wind up with Candace wrapped in toilet paper. Next, the boys set out to become a one-hit wonder after they misinterpret mom's description of "a catchy tune with meaningless lyrics."
"Raging Bully" / "Lights, Candace, Action!" Evander Holyfield (!) guest stars as himself, offering advice to Phineas, who's set to face off against the neighborhood bully in a thumb wrestling match. Then, Candace stars in a romantic movie that the boys re-edit into "The Curse of the Princess Monster."
"It's About Time! Part I & Part II" A trip to the museum goes awry when the boys and Candace activate a time machine, sending them back 300 million years. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz replaces Perry with a new nemesis, Peter the Panda, which makes no one happy. Pop culture references abound, from H.G. Wells to Dr. Phil to the Archies.
The disc is programmed with Disney's "Fast Play" instant play feature.
Video & Audio
This 1.33:1 full frame transfer makes the most out of the show's elegantly simple animation style. Bold colors pop and lines are crisp, improving on the already solid broadcast image. The soundtrack is a clean, crisp Dolby 2.0, effortlessly duplicating the broadcast sound; the songs sound spectacular. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
The main extra here is a full-length pitch version of the pilot episode ("Rollercoaster" - why wasn't that episode included in this set?). This pitch is something of a rough draft version using animated storyboards, with Povenmire providing all the voices. Fans of the show will be interested in seeing what changed from concept to final product. (Keep an ear open for the different rendition of the theme song.)
Strictly for the kids is a set of slow-to-load games that require you to use the arrow buttons on your remote. They're good ideas (a whack-a-mole-style game has great potential), but the clumsy, time-consuming interface erases all the fun.
A batch of previews rounds out the set; some previews also play as the disc loads.
"Phineas and Ferb" is one of the bright new shows to debut this year, and it's great to see it on DVD. However, Disney's reluctance to deliver full season sets leaves yet another show stuck with a bland release. Serious fans shouldn't be deterred from picking up this disc (the nearly two-hour running time is more appealing than Warner Brothers' similar, shorter random compilations), but the rest of you should merely Rent It. Until Disney wises up and offers a full season set, you can always catch "Phineas and Ferb" in reruns on basic cable instead.