Saturday, August 29, 2020

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

As we were catching up with every episode of Phineas and Ferb, we learned about a new film, Candance Against the Universe, and anticipated it even more once we finally finished the series. We didn’t keep up with all of the pre-release material, but we did watch a Comic-Con@Home panel about the film, which gave some great insight into the development and included the opening musical number as a preview. We would then later cave in and get a Disney+ subscription to access the film, which we then watched twice on its release day. While I thought the build-up was worth it, I wasn’t sure exactly how to feel about the seeming influence from Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh’s other project, Milo Murphy’s Law.

Candace (Ashley Tisdale) is once again unable to bust her brothers, Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr.), and believes that the entire universe is against her. As she vents to Vanessa (Olivia Olson), the two of them are abducted by aliens and taken to a faraway planet where Candace is worshipped as a savior. Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb, with help from their friends and Dr. Doofenshmirtz (Dan Povenmire), set out across the galaxy to rescue their sister, and Vanessa, from danger.

Phineas and Ferb use Doofenshmirtz's Galactic Travel-inator to go rescuce
Candace and Vanessa; L-R: Buford (Bobby Gaylor), Ferb (David Errigo Jr.),
Phineas (Vincent Martella), Dr. Doofenshmirtz (Dan Povenmire),
Isabella (Alyson Stoner), Baljeet (Maulik Pancholy)

Despite a five-year gap since Phineas and Ferb ended, the story of the film fits very well within the universe of the show. Much like Across the 2nd Dimension, the elements of the A and B plot of an episode are there, but with enough story to actually feel feature length instead of merely an extended episode. By Phineas and Ferb standards, the plot is also generally more serious, with higher stakes than most episodes while Candace is also front and center in a role that downplays her antagonistic traits to allow for greater emotional growth on her end. The film’s antagonist contributes well to Candace’s arc, showing a more misguided version of her search for self-worth. I also appreciated that one of Doofenshmirtz’s previous inventions, the Chicken Replace-inator, graduated from a joke weapon to something with more of a purpose.

Unfortunately, not everything fit quite well. The biggest example is that two returning characters, Jeremy and Stacy, feel tacked on at the very end of the film, contributing almost nothing but cheap fanservice for longtime fans. Also, despite taking place within the same summer as the main series, there are some modern references sprinkled in, including a scene involving a virtual assistant, a quick nod to the flossing dance style and a musical number about “Adulting”.

Fortunately, the film still has Phineas and Ferb’s trademark smart humor, including an argument between Baljeet and Doofenshmirtz over astronomy and astrology. An extended joke of Buford carrying a canoe everywhere has a great payoff and there’s a good amount of meta humor without going overboard. One type of joke does get used a few times, a character repeatedly failing a simple task, but there’s at least some variety to keep it from getting stale.

Compared to Across the 2nd Dimension, Candace Against the Universe has theater-quality animation, a result of a noticeably higher animation budget. This also means a higher level of fluidity and detail, including clear physical and emotional exhaustion from everything Candace goes through during the film. During the third act of the film, there’s also one very masterful meta joke that also manages to give some quick insight into how a specific scene was animated. However, there are some small traces of cheapness, including one smoke effect that, thanks to a faster frame rate, looks like something the animators placed on top of the scene instead of actually animating themselves. Some of the designs also felt more like they would fit in with Milo Murphy’s Law, particularly the aliens (I think the shape language has something to do with it).

Candace (Ashley Tisdale) is more visibly exhausted.

The voice acting is a big plus as well. Everyone sounds pretty much exactly the same as they did during the show’s original run, most notably Ashley Tisdale’s speaking and singing voice as Candace. She also gets to show off more of Candace’s emotional range, including crying that sounds genuinely sad. It seemed like Phineas sounded just a little different, likely due to Vincent Martella’s increased age since he last voiced the character. Though Thomas Brodie-Sangster didn’t reprise his role as Ferb, his replacement, David Errigo Jr., sounds so close to Sangster’s performance that I almost couldn’t tell the difference.

Much like the show itself, this film is also a musical. There are 13 songs during the 86-minute runtime, but they’re worked into the story pretty naturally. Of course, they’re a little hit and miss, but the ones that hit are absolute bangers, including “Such a Beautiful Day”, “Adulting” and “We’re Back”. “Silhouettes” also takes a great jab at the trend of movies essentially recapping themselves during the credits. Despite the high song count, however, not all of them are full length. For instance, “Space Adventure” is the theme song for an in-universe TV show and the full version of “The Universe is Against Me” isn’t heard during the film. Additionally, “Chop Away at My Heart” appears only as a quick background snippet as a reference to Milo Murphy’s Law.

Like Across the 2nd Dimension, Candace Against the Universe is well-written and has the best animation of the series. Though there is a little more influence from Milo Murphy’s Law than I would have liked, this film will more than please Phineas and Ferb fans who have waited years for a proper continuation. As an added bonus, this film is also pretty accessible to people who aren’t as familiar with the show and want to see what the fuss is about, though it helps if you already know the relationships between the characters.

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