Movie review: Candace Against the Universe
A fun, lighthearted, nostalgic dive back into a beloved cartoon
While the world has been a particularly uncertain and worrisome place for so many of us this year, these last few months have been a great time for “comfort media.” And I’m not just talking about the shows everyone tells you to watch when you’re stressed out – catching up on the latest seasons of The Great British Bake Off and Queer Eye – but a return to old favourites, too. Whether you’re back in your childhood bedroom or just feeling nostalgic for weekend afternoon cartoons, now is a great time to dive back into a universe you used to love.
That’s why I was so excited when I saw a trailer for Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe earlier this month. Phineas and Ferb, a cartoon series which ran from 2007 to 2015, was an absolute staple of my middle school years. The ten-minute episodes followed the adventures of step brothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher as they build fantastical, amazing, usually enormous and arguably dangerous projects in their backyard (including a full-sized roller coaster, battle robots, and an elevator to the moon). Their older sister Candace is obsessed with “busting” them to their mom – proving once and for all that the boys have been up to something. But – due to a B-plot involving an evil scientist and his secret agent platypus nemesis – the boys’ invention would always disappear right before their mom arrived home.
So it’s not exactly highbrow entertainment, but it is really fun, and I’ve definitely been missing the show since it went off the air. The show’s creators, Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, did follow up their success with two fantastic seasons of Milo Murphy’s Law, and while that show is independently great, it doesn’t (yet) have as much of that fun nostalgia factor.
But now, Phineas and Ferb and their whole gang have returned to our screens for a full hour and 26 minutes of inventions, adventures, and alien planet escapades.
The movie picks up like it could be any episode of the show. Candace is trying to enjoy a nice summer day, but she keeps getting distracted by her frustration with not being able to bust her brothers for their invention of the day – this time, it’s a giant robot clown that’s juggling them and their friends in mid-air. And when the clown gets turned into lint and sucked away by a giant vacuum – and to be clear, this is not even remotely close to the least plausible thing that has ever happened in the Phineas and Ferb universe – Candace starts to really believe that the universe is against her.
And all of that is before she gets abducted by an alien queen intent on using her to revive an evil mind-controlling plant that she will use to subjugate the denizens of the planet Feebla-Oot (sidebar: what is it with theses show creators and evil plants? A different species of totalitarian greenery was a major recurring plot point in Milo Murphy’s Law, too). And it only gets even more wonderfully, profoundly weird from there.
At the start, I thought the beginning of the movie dragged without adding too much. The opening song had a fun concept – light, summery, almost “background-music-on-the-radio” pop that transitions into screaming rock & roll as Candace rages about the unfairness of it all – but didn’t need a full musical number to get the point across. Over the years, the show’s writers and animators had become masters at packing everything and the kitchen sink into a ten-minute storyboard, so it was a little jarring to see them not always making the most of every frame.
I also wish we had seen a bit more of Phineas and Ferb building ingenious things, rather than speeding through those sequences in favour of diving into the next plot point.
But those are some very small critiques of what was, on the whole, a really fun movie that I’m so glad I watched.
And while it does take a while to get the plot rolling – Candace abducted, her brothers and their friends mounting a daring pan-galactic rescue mission, the b-plot well in swing – once it gets in gear, it’s as good or better than ever.
The movie took the spirit of the original show’s classic Checkov’s gun gags and kicked it up to a new level, including a canoe that travels into space and a device that replaces any object with the nearest chicken (or, critically, the furthest chicken) both becoming extremely plot-relevant in the third act. And there is a hilarious sequence when a quirk of space travel causes the characters to get broken down into their “basic elements” – from animation to storyboard to actual video of the show’s creators pitching this scene – before returning to themselves, poking fun at the medium in the most perfect way.
And the movie’s final song more than lived up to the show’s tradition of pulling genuinely great music out of nowhere, and I’ll be humming it to myself with a smile for a long time to come. As the semester gets started, so many of us are looking ahead at months of adult responsibilities of classes, jobs, and bills. But being grown up doesn’t mean we don’t get to enjoy childish things anymore – it just means we get to enjoy them on our own terms. So why not make yourself a plate of your favourite childhood snack, curl up in bed, and put on a fun cartoon movie? Life’s way too short to let kids have all the fun