“There’s 104 days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end them, and the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend them.” Except for the current generation. With the world fighting the coronavirus and quarantining for six months now, the line between school and vacation is blurred. For many, it is not the relaxing or fun times Phineas and Ferb lived through on the Disney Channel show, “Phineas and Ferb.” Still, people are returning to the show that has been off the air for years, vicariously living through a summer that is simply not possible.
The show follows 12-year-old Phineas Flynn and his introverted stepbrother, Ferb, as they create crazy inventions in their backyard during summer vacation. With the help of their friends, they are able to pull off everything from huge roller coasters to giant fighting treehouses. At the end of the day when their fun is over, their contraptions tend to clean themselves up and disappear in wild ways, like in one episode when a giant mole appeared and carried their invention away. This is much to the dismay of their older sister Candace, who is always trying to show their oblivious mom what mischievous things the boys have been up to all day.
Nostalgia for Simpler Times
The creators of the show, Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, drew inspiration from their own summers as kids. In an interview, Povenmire recalled, “My mom let me drape black material all the way across one end of our living room to use as a space field. I would hang little models of spaceships for these little movies I made with a Super 8 camera.”
“Phineas and Ferb” offers viewers a chance to relive their own childhoods. This is perfect for people particularly nostalgic for the days when they could go out wherever they wished with friends and have adventures.
For instance, the show features The Fireside Girls, who are meant to be like Girl Scouts. Some episodes showcase how their leader, Isabella, is dedicated to earning badges while having fun with other girls. In one episode, Isabella must forage for food and water, using her scout training to get water from a cactus; a modern-day Girl Scout of any age can relate.
For those who spent their summers studying, they can identify with Baljeet, an Indian boy who spent his summer doing math. If your parents ever had you do Kumon or some other summer program for test prep, you can understand his enjoyment of being with friends having fun instead of cooped up inside doing multiplication.
Even Phineas and Ferb themselves represent that time in our lives when we felt we could do anything. Package boxes became a giant fort to live in, all during the days when the floor really was lava, or when using the chemistry kit ordered from Scholastic Magazine meant that you were a genius scientist, uncovering secrets never known before.
The two brothers are repeatedly asked, “Aren’t you a bit too young to be (fill in the blank)?” Every time, they say “Yes, yes we are,” with no hesitation and continue unperturbed in the impossible feat of bringing the imagination to real life.
No Limitations on Imagination
The show perfectly meshes the realms of possible and impossible and in many ways fits the classic suburban family archetype. Candace, Phineas, Ferb and their parents always sit down and eat together. Their mother goes grocery shopping, bakes pies and is always ready to make snacks for the boys and their friends. Candace is a teenage girl that loves to play instruments and sing, and her brothers simply hang out with friends and play with their pet platypus, Perry. All of this sounds normal, and some may even find this is how their lives were before quarantine.
Then, the impossible comes in. Phineas and Ferb are both so young, yet they have engineering and architectural knowledge that allows them to create huge inventions. Their pet platypus is actually an agent that works for the OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym) and is tasked by the U.S. government to foil the plans of the evil scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. They have ventured to the past and the future, Candace became the queen of Mars, and their mom and dad even became pop stars. All of this sounds absurd, but it’s executed in such a thoughtful and genius manner.
Comfort in Predictability
There is a set formula for every “Phineas and Ferb” episode. Each episode opens with Phineas uttering, “I know what we’re going to do today,” followed by him realizing that Perry the platypus has disappeared.
As he asks, “Where’s Perry?” the scene shifts to Perry putting on a fedora and entering OWCA headquarters. His boss, Major Monogram, then briefs him on the evil invention (-inator) that Doofenshmirtz made that day. The scene changes again with the jingle “Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated” playing in the background as we see the scientist’s high rise building in Manhattan. Perry somehow sneaks in and every single time, Doofenshmirtz says, “A platypus?” — to which Perry responds by putting on his fedora. The scientist then exclaims, “Perry the Platypus!” The comedic effect stays fresh time after time, as compilation videos online show thousands of likes for their interactions.
Doofensmirtz somehow traps Perry, gives a backstory for his invention of the day, and then Perry escapes and they fight.
The main plot and B plot then merge, as somehow Doofensmirtz’s contraption somehow always makes Phineas and Ferb’s invention disappear. By the time Candace is able to get her mom into the backyard, there is nothing there to get her brothers in trouble.
Although the storyline is predictable, the show still has such a large fan base today.
How the Show Continues to Build a Following
First, the coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty. No one knows when the cure will be ready or when life will be back to normal. Hence, with normality removed from the current state of the world, Phineas and Ferb provide a story each episode that is not boring, but rather reliable and even comforting.
Second, the show features at least one musical number per episode. Each of these songs is catchy and tends to stay in your head for a long time after watching.
These songs are not only sweet and even funny at times, but they’re also educational. Personally, I didn’t know the plastic bit of a shoelace was an aglet until they made a musical number about it. While “Phineas and Ferb” can be a little formulaic, at the same time, it entertains with whatever wild adventures the characters take on that day.
Hope for the Future
This show is not just for kids. It provides jokes that all audiences can understand, is imaginative and really just showcases two boys trying to enjoy their summer. As we stay at home or slowly but surely get back to school or work, “Phineas and Ferb” provides us the summer we couldn’t have, as well as inspires us to make the most of the ones to come. After all, no matter what crazy plot drives the show, at the end of the day, their mom is always there to give them a snack. As we go through the pandemic, though we can’t be as certain as Phineas of what we will do each day, we must remember that quarantine will come to an end, and our snacks will be waiting for us too.