Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Live with the Cast and Producers of 'Phineas and Ferb'

Phineas Ferb panel
Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty

Thank goodness for "Phineas & Ferb." The Disney Channel cartoon rivals adult-oriented primetime toons like "Family Guy" for clever asides and witty references. (As a matter of fact, one of the "Phineas" creators even spent time on "Family Guy" before setting out to recreate that vibe, without the raunch.)

"Phineas & Ferb" is easily the most-viewed TV series in our household -- by virtue of the fact that it seems to be perpetually on in our home. (I believe we have about 13 episodes on Tivo at the moment.) It's a show that my kids can appreciate, but I honestly think more of the jokes are geared toward adults.

And that's by design. Creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff 'Swampy' Marsh spent 16 years trying to turn "Phineas & Ferb" into reality -- were looking to create an evergreen series that targeted several generations.

The concept -- two stepbrothers creating mini-adventures each and every day of summer vacation -- has proved to be fertile ground. Just last week the boys built a truck stop diner on top of the family RV. They’ve milked cows on the moon. They’ve built a biodome. They’ve opened the trendiest restaurant in town. They’ve built a teleporter, discovered the lost city of Atlantis, traveled inside their sister’s stomach, traveled back in time to the Jurassic Age and circled the globe after being inspired by Clay Aiken and Chaka Khan.

It all began with episode one in 2007, when the boys built a rollercoaster in the back yard. Four years later, it’s not just the biggest thing to ever come out of Danville and the Tri-State area – yes, even bigger than Love Handel and one-hit wonder Lindana. "Phineas and Ferb" is a huge Emmy-winning success for Disney. Just two weeks ago the Disney Channel Original Movie "Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension" attracted the best ratings of any basic cable movie this year.

I had the opportunity to moderate a panel this past Saturday at the Paley Center's 2011 Paley Fest: Family Edition, featuring Povenmire and Marsh, as well as voice stars Vincent Martella (Phineas), Ashley Tisdale (Candace), Dee Bradley Baker (Perry the Platypus), Alyson Stoner (Isabella), and Mitchel Musso (Jeremy).

Among the tidbits:

-- I mentioned how the bumbling Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz may be the most-rounded cartoon villain ever. He's divorced and trying to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter, leading to some (yes, really) touching moments. The producers noted that they battled Disney to actually say the word "divorced" on the show -- execs were worried that it might depress kids whose parents were actually divorced. But the producers believed the opposite: "Phineas & Ferb" is all about blended families and the reality of today's parental units.

-- A theatrical "Phineas & Ferb" movie, including live-action elements, is in the works and still on track to be released in 2013.

-- The busy cast rarely sees each other, and records in their own city on their own time. Events like this one and Comic-Con represent some of the few moments where they've actually been in the same room together.

-- When asked about their favorite episode, many of them go back to the one that started it all: "Rollercoaster."

-- The mouth movement that Perry the Platypus makes when he speaks is based on how actor Dee Bradley Baker contorts his mouth when actually making that sound.

-- Why a platypus? Because there hadn't been one before. The creators shared advice they learned from DreamWorks: When "Shrek" first hit, the studio realized that it could own the phrase "ogre." Everyone knew the word "ogre," but no one could really picture what one looked like. Enter Shrek. Now, when people think "ogre," a picture of Shrek comes to mind. DreamWorks now owns that mental space. Povenmire and Marsh hope they're doing the same with the platypus. Now, when you think "platypus," doesn't Perry come into view?

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