Saturday, March 21, 2009

All Hail Phineas and Ferb

If you've watched any of the Disney Channel on cable or satellite TV, then you're familiar with the half-hour cartoon, Phineas and Ferb. Today, I salute Phineas and Ferb, the cartoon.

The story line of the show is always the same: it's summer vacation, and two stepbrothers are trying to decide what they're going to do that day. (Okay, that's eerily like Pinky and the Brain, but we're not going to go there.) They always settle on a project that is completely off the wall: an elevator to the moon; a flying car; a real beach in their backyard. And then they go ahead and do it.

At the end of the half-hour (and the end of the cartoon day), they always manage to get everything back to normal, mere seconds before their sister can tattle on them to their mother.

Although it's irrelevant to the point of this blog entry, I have to give a nod to their pet platypus. Every episode features a subplot involving Perry, their pet platypus, who disappears into his underground hideout, assumes his Secret Agent P identity, and goes off to do battle with his arch-enemy, the evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz. The Agent P vs. Doofenschmirtz battle usually meshes with Phineas and Ferb's project towards the end of the show, thwarting both Dr. Doofenschmirtz's evil plot and their sister's attempt to bust them.

The story line is augmented by some of the most imaginative studio music since the glory days of Fame and Miami Vice. I would buy a Phineas and Ferb soundtrack album, if such a thing existed.

The greatest thing about the show, though, is what it teaches its young viewers. The creators of P&F may not have done this intentionally, but it's there nevertheless.

Remember the second half of that famous George Bernard Shaw (swiped by RFK) quote? "I dream things that never were and say why not." Today's world seems aimed at squashing "why not" dreams, at squelching creativity and innovation. To make matters worse, this same world portrays the careers and the personal attributes of successful scientists and engineers as uncool or worthless.

(Go on, admit it: it's true. Even the hit shows that could be fostering these values, such as House and NCIS, attach way more value and coolness to physical appearance, a sharp wit, an acid tongue, and fighting and shooting ability, than they do to the more cerebral attributes.)

P&F turns that around. Every episode shows the boys having fun with the skills and character traits that make scientists and engineers really successful: creative thinking, innovation, planning, project management, systems engineering, design, problem-solving, leadership, determination, and self-confidence.

Repeatedly, Phineas takes delivery of some crucial material for their project, such as a truckload of sand for their beach, and the delivery person says, "Aren't you kind of young to be doing this?" Without missing a beat, Phineas replies, "Why, yes. Yes, I am." Then he smiles confidently and keeps going.

Everything the boys tackle, they tackle with enthusiasm. Especially in today's business climate, with businesses on the ropes and employees afraid of losing their jobs, you don't see a lot of enthusiasm in the workplace. Phineas and Ferb find fun in everything they do, and the work is always its own reward. To the (adult) members of today's workforce, sitting down and watching 30 minutes of this kind of enthusiasm is healing and refreshing.

They also display an interesting character trait that the world could use more of: honesty. No, it's more than that. It's a complete lack of guile. The missuz and I were talking about this last night. Their sister is never successful at busting them -- their parents never get to see their sons' grand creations. But it doesn't mean the boys are sneaky. They don't try to hide anything. In one episode, Candace tells her parents that Phineas and Ferb have built an elevator to the moon. Mom and Dad don't believe her, so Phineas says, "But it's true!" and he and Ferb display an American flag and some moon rocks to support Candace's story.

Another admirable trait of the boys is their complete unflappability. (I don't even know if that's a word.) Nothing fazes them. If their inventions fail or their plans go awry, either they go to Plan B, or they successfully wing it, or they shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, that was fun while it lasted."

It seems to be a modern tendency to panic and brood over things that go wrong, or even to find someone to blame and someone to sue. Not so with Phineas and Ferb. After all, life to them is just one summer day after another, and as long as they can find something fun to do every day, life is good.


Dantible said...

Good News, there is going to be a Phineas and Ferb Soundtrack CD released in August in conjunction with our Music Video Cliptacular Episode.

And just so you know, Swampy and I made a very intentional decision early on to keep the boys completely free of malice or deceit. So many shows for kids today are populated with characters that are either stupid or mean. It's easier to write comedy if you got to those places but we wanted to see if we could make a funny show that kids would like but would not be celebrating that kind of behavior.

We are thrilled to death that kids are responding to it and even more thrilled when adults notice. Thanks.

Dan Povenmire
Co-Creator, Phineas and Ferb

Zyzmog said...

Okay, this is old news, but the soundtrack is out! It's had its own Wikipedia page for a while ( I got it the day it was released, and had to wait a couple weeks until my son's birthday to listen to it. I posted a review of it at .