It's a bit weird to admit just how excited I've been about this movie.
Yes, that's even taking into account 2020's impossible-to-keep-track-of release slate, and only amplified by having an excuse to go back and watch 'Phineas and Ferb' again.
*That includes the Marvel and Star Wars specials, plus 2011's 'Across the 2nd Dimension' movie; never say I'm not thorough.
I loved the series as a kid, but I was surprised at just how much of it has held up between the characters, animation, humor, music, and especially the cleverness of the writing. Showrunners Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh's show about two stepbrothers and their pet platypus constantly one-upping their own insane inventions really knew how to play with its own conventions.
It was able to turn seemingly repetitive, absurdist circumstances into a treasure trove of comedic potential for all ages with seemingly universal appeal. One could argue the success and quality of 'Phineas and Ferb' gave Disney the chance to explore the ideas that would lead to the animation boom of the 2010s.
*Seriously, go look up the Disney Channel programming lineups before and after 2010, there are some stark differences.
But it wasn't just nostalgia that excited me about 'Candace Against the Universe.' I was very intrigued by the choice to place the film before the events of the show's series finale and, more importantly, flip the framing of the story from the titular characters to their sister Candace. Given Candace's framing in the show as more of an unwilling antagonist to the boys' creativity, I was excited by the opportunity to see her given more precedence as a character
On top of that, if you've watched any of the follow-up series, 'Milo Murphy's Law' (still hoping for that third season, fingers crossed), you know that Povenmire and Marsh haven't lost an ounce of their mojo, even with pandemic restrictions forcing much of the film to be completed remotely and, in some cases, reworked for key portions.
So with at least an attempt to remove my nostalgia goggles, what do we get from 'Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe?' Well, here's where I have to issue a bit of a disclaimer: I will concede that, if you're not a fan of the style and tone of the original series, this one might get on your nerves on more than a few occasions.
However, I would also make an argument that the film is not only accessible to new fans or families looking for a fun watch on Disney+, but is also kind of a celebration of what made the original series so great. For me, as weird as it is to admit, 'Candace Against the Universe' succeeds in its ambitions, delivers a couple of solid surprises along the way, and honestly might be the purest fun I've had with any movie in 2020 (although, again, with a few caveats to that statement).
'Candace Against the Universe' starts off along the same story beats as the show. Phineas (voiced by Vincent Martella), his step-brother, Ferb (voiced by David Errigo Jr.), and their friends have built an incredible attraction in their backyard. Their sister, Candace (voiced by Ashley Tisdale) tries everything in her power to bust their antics to their mother, Linda (voiced by Caroline Rhea), but ultimately fails. Upset that the universe has seemingly been against her all summer, Candace is briefly cheered up from a visit from her friend, Vanessa (voiced by Olivia Olsen).
However, their meeting is interrupted when the two of them are accidentally sucked inside of an alien escape pod and shot towards a distant planet. Phineas and Ferb see this and attempt to construct a portal to the planet, but accidentally wind up at the lab of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Povenmire), Vanessa's evil scientist father. Together, Doofenshmirtz and the boys build a spaceship (or "galactic travel-inator" as he calls it) to rescue the girls, all while Candace and Vanessa contend with a new adventure on the new planet.
I want to reiterate my earlier stance of this being pure fun because that's probably the biggest takeaway I got from the movie. Most of the voice cast from the show return for the movie (minus David Errigo Jr. who replaces Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Ferb) and they give the characters the same vibrant, quirky chemistry that made the show so great.
We also get some fun new additions like Tiffany Haddish (in a cameo I would never have seen coming), Vine star Thomas Sanders (whose reaction to the film I'm linking below because it will make your day), and Ali Wong as the alien ruler Super Super Big Doctor. Even if the characters' motivations aren't necessarily hard to predict, Wong does voice the character as an interesting interpolation of Candace's personality and her arc throughout the film is more satisfying than I might have initially thought.
Of course, the main focus is Candace herself voiced by Ashley Tisdale and, after a decade of voicing this character, she frankly deserves a lot more praise than she's gotten. Tisdale has excellent comedic timing and has a great grasp on when to play up the overexcitement that makes the character so much fun to watch. It also goes back to that idea of story framing, where we get to see Candace very much as the driving force of the story, trying to find that sense of ecstatic sense of drive in a universe that is seemingly against her.
The albeit simplistic story around Candace is made up for by what Povenmire, Marsh, and their co-writers manage to do with it. As I re-watched the series I found myself legitimately feeling bad for Candace's continuous misfires in busting her brothers (Fallingwithstyle's video does a much better job explaining this than I ever could), and 'Candace Against the Universe' allows us to actually see some of that subtlety, making Candace feel a bit more developed as a character. In addition, it works the other way around, because we get to see the legitimate love she has for her brothers and vice versa in some of the films more genuinely emotional moments.
But again, this is a 'Phineas and Ferb' movie we're talking about; you're here for wacky, cleverer-than-they-ought-to-be hijinks and the film is more than willing to provide. The humor is consistent and feels so natural for what the show was known for, between Perry the Platypus' miserably unlucky side plot, a fourth wall break that is way funnier than it needs to be, and a plethora of smaller sight gags that are too many to count.
That humor also extends into the music and while I didn't "love" his work on 'Milo Murphy's Law,' composer Danny Jacobs is just as solid a songwriter as ever. His underlying score provides some great melodies to it, but the songs are where he really gets to shine alongside the cast. "Meet Our Leader" is a hilarious introduction song to the alien world that could have easily gone for another verse or two, "Adulting" is saved from constant annoyance by some really great interplay between Isabella and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, and "Us Against the Universe" is the kind of upbeat finale number that might rank among the best songs of the franchise.
As much as I'd love to gush over this movie endlessly, it does have a few mishaps to it (albeit a few out of its control). For one thing, the pacing of the film almost feels too fast, even taking into context how fast a lot of the series' episodes could go. I almost would have liked to explore some of the alien world a bit more or see more of the side characters that only get one or two lines and there's certainly room to fit those in. In addition, there are moments especially in the first half where the animation can feel out of place, likely due to the pandemic working conditions. Most of the movie is colorful and well-made enough as is, but it can feel a bit inconsistent at times, especially with those pacing issues.
I've probably gone on for WAY too long about this and there's probably very few of you who are legitimately as excited about this as I am, so I'll leave it as condensed as I can. Even if 'Candace Against the Universe' might not seem like it's your thing (you never got into the series, you're not interested in the concept, etc.), there's a good chance you'll find a lot to like, maybe even love, about this movie.
It's welcoming beyond its source material and is clever and exciting enough to warrant giving it a shot (plus its less than 90 minutes and feels even faster than that). For me, I'm just happy to see these characters again, seemingly without an ounce of diminished fun and in some cases improved. I'm sure that notion of "it's 2020 and we need fun things" is feeling more and more overplayed, but I'm taking the good stuff where I can and this is certainly that.
Overall, I give 'Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe' 8.5/10
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