Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe – a review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against The Universe as well as for the Phineas and Ferb television series.

This is a rare treat! There hasn’t been a new Phineas and Ferb story since 2015 when the series went off the air, and I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to return. Disney Channel shows are usually one-and-done things, even now that we’re in an era of reboots and unnecessary sequels. Although some of the characters from the series had crossed over to Milo Murphy’s Law, the announcement of Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe was an incredibly welcome surprise.

I first saw Phineas and Ferb shortly after its 2007 premiere. I had a cable television subscription at the time (remember those?) and one of the channels in the package I’d selected was the Disney Channel – not that I watched it all that much as an adult! But somehow I caught a preview or advert for the series, and it looked like a lot of fun so I gave it a try. I was glad I did, because far from being a silly little kids’ cartoon, Phineas and Ferb has a depth to it that I truly believe transcends its target audience. There’s a lot to like in the show for kids and adults, and as someone who first encountered it as an adult, I can attest to that.

Phineas and Ferb debuted in 2007 with the episode Rollercoaster. This was the opening shot of the series.

As I mentioned the last time I talked about Phineas and Ferb, it’s a show I drift back to on my bad days when my mental health suffers. The bright colours, happy storylines, cute animation style, and fun musical numbers can really take the edge off sometimes, and I’ve always appreciated that about the series.

So what about its latest offering then? Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat – what on earth is going on with that horrible title? Nine words is far too long for any film’s title, and it needed to be cut down as much as possible! Calling it something like Phineas and Ferb: Candace v. the Universe would have conveyed the same message in a more concise form; there was no reason to include “the Movie” in the title of… a movie. So long as it was even moderately well marketed the audience would have known it was a feature-length production.

The titular Candace.

Unlike some titles, such as the upcoming Mulan remake, there was never any question of a theatrical release for Candace Against the Universe (as I shall be calling it for the sake of brevity). It was always scheduled for a Disney+ debut, and I believe it was always planned to arrive in the summer. Though the 28th of August is certainly the tail end of summer, it made its release window despite all the pandemonium in the world, and that’s a great accomplishment!

If I had to summarise my thoughts in a couple of sentences, I’d say that the film blew me away. It was exactly what I’d hope for from any returning franchise: plenty of references to past successes, but with a new and exciting story tying it all together. There were numerous callbacks to past events in the series, but none of them felt like they got in the way of a brilliant, surprisingly emotional story.

Candace referred to the events of a number of Phineas and Ferb episodes in her opening song.

Candace Against the Universe riffs off a similar overarching story from Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension, the first feature-length film in the series that released in 2011. In that story, Candace, Perry, and the boys wound up in an alternate reality and had to get home, while stopping the villain – that dimension’s version of Dr Doofenshmirtz – conquering their home. This time, after Candace is abducted, they have to rescue her and escape an alien planet, then stop the planet’s ruler conquering their home. Both of these stories are epic in scope and allowed for powerful moments, and the fact that it’s not a wholly original premise doesn’t even matter – what matters is it was an amazing ride.

I’ve talked before about Phineas and Ferb delving into some quite deep and complex themes, and perhaps the biggest one featured in Candace Against the Universe is that of mental health. Candace’s unhappiness (or depression), and the fact that those closest to her hadn’t noticed, is a big part of her story and sets up the main plot of the film. Mental health can be a difficult subject for any film to tackle, let alone one primarily aimed at kids, but Candace Against the Universe managed to approach the topic in a way that was understandable even for younger viewers.

Candace’s mental health was the main focus of her story.

Candace being unhappy with herself and her lot in life was communicated in two main sequences: one at the beginning of the film, and one as it approached its climax. It’s very easy for depression to be missed, even when the person isn’t going out of their way to conceal how they feel. Candace’s family didn’t spot how unhappy she was, which ultimately became a contributing factor and made her feel worse. Phineas is the character this affects the most (as Ferb, naturally, has very few lines). The realisation that his sister is feeling awful while he’s been having a great time weighed on him for practically the entire film.

This wasn’t a bolt from the blue for returning fans, either. Candace has always been a character with a complex psyche, at least in the episodes that explored her side of the story in any detail. We’ve seen her being neurotic, manic at times, and dejected and depressed too, so this side of her character really was a natural fit. Obviously there’s far more to mental health than can be explored in an hour-and-a-half, but the elements that the film was able to include – as well as the tone – were pitch-perfect. We often see characters with depression stereotyped, even in films and television shows made for adults. Yet Candace Against the Universe tackled its subject matter in a wholly different way, still firmly making Candace the star while allowing her to explore her issue and get to the heart of why she’s unhappy – instead of just beating us over the head with the fact that she is unhappy.

Vanessa approaches Candace near the beginning of the film.

While the concept of a single issue causing depression, then that depression being easily overcome in one single moment of realisation and coming together (as the film depicts) is arguably an oversimplification, it’s nevertheless by far the best way I’ve seen depression handled in any film or television show for a very long time. The writers and producers deserve a lot of credit for putting out this frank yet understandable depiction, and for conveying the message that you don’t need to be the centre of the universe to matter. That’s what Candace learned – and I bet a lot of kids watching learned it right along with her.

Okay, that’s enough about that for now. Phineas and Ferb was a show with an incredible soundtrack – and Candace Against the Universe didn’t buck the trend. I actually think that Candace voice actress Ashley Tisdale’s singing is even better than it was a few years ago during the show’s original run, and she had a great song right at the beginning called Such a Beautiful Day.

Candace Against the Universe had some great musical numbers.

That song was the opening sequence of the film, and it did a great job not only setting up Candace’s story, but recapping the show for new viewers and those who haven’t seen the series in a while. There also seemed to be a hint – just a hint – at possible further stories in the Phineas and Ferb universe, as Candace sings “other nonsense coming soon” when listing some of the boys’ inventions. I wondered earlier in the year whether Candace Against the Universe might be a springboard for Phineas and Ferb Season 5, and this line was the first big hint that the film dropped at that possibility. Certainly going on the strength of the film and its story, if co-creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh wanted to make another season, Disney would surely be up for it!

Also during this opening song (or rather, during a break in it) we got a short scene between Candace and her best friend Stacy. Though Stacy wouldn’t have much to do in the film overall, I loved this scene. It was a perfectly normal interaction between them, but it was in this moment that I really felt like I was back in the Phineas and Ferb universe. Life was going on, and all the characters were right where I left them.

This scene with Stacy normalised everything and made it feel like Phineas and Ferb never went away.

Other songs were good too, and overall the film had a great soundtrack. The songs equalled the best offerings from the series, and anyone coming into Candace Against the Universe looking for good music certainly didn’t leave disappointed!

The biggest familiar trope missing from the film was the interaction between Perry the Platypus/Agent P and Dr Doofenshmirtz. Because the story involved a team-up between Phineas, Ferb, and their friends with Doofenshmirtz, Perry was relegated to a lesser role, hiding in the shadows trying to avoid being seen by anyone for much of the film. Of course it makes perfect sense, and after the closing of Across the Second Dimension required the kids to get a memory wipe in order for the show to continue its two stories concept effectively, nobody really wanted to see a repeat of that. However, it meant that one of the usual two stories we’d expect from most Phineas and Ferb productions wasn’t present, and there’s certainly part of me that feels that’s a shame. Though there was a very brief fight between them at the beginning of the film, it didn’t fulfil its usual role as the second story, and the absence of that story beat was definitely noticeable.

Perry had less to do than usual – and didn’t really battle Dr Doofenshmirtz.

That isn’t really a complaint, though. Perry still had a role in the story, and although we didn’t see him spend much time with the other characters, he got time with Doofenshmirtz and Vanessa near the end of the film. Perry’s plot in some ways is reminiscent of his role in Across the Second Dimension, where he similarly wasn’t battling against (the original) Dr Doofenshmirtz.

The other thing we didn’t really get to see all that much of was Phineas and Ferb inventing. Off-screen they built the giant clown-robot at the beginning of the film – which was destroyed in a clear homage to Avengers Infinity War! Again off-screen they built the robots they used to attack the villain near the end of the film. They also built the portal to Feebla-Oot, which ultimately didn’t work. Again, I don’t feel this detracted from the film – though it was certainly a brave choice. It was definitely a twist in the final act to see the boys’ robots so easily defeated.

The defeated robots.

Candace Against the Universe actually contained several references to Star Trek, which isn’t something I was expecting! Part of the story involves Baljeet’s obsession with the fictional “Space Adventure” franchise. This isn’t new to Phineas and Ferb and had been mentioned or seen several times before. It’s a generic sci-fi franchise which seems to include films and a television series, and while I would have said past Phineas and Ferb stories treated it more like Star Wars, in this film it was definitely used as a stand-in for Star Trek. The aesthetic of Space Adventure, including its starship design and the design of the bridge of the ship, pays homage to Star Trek, and the starship featured in the show even used the “USS” designation. Baljeet was definitely a Trekkie stereotype at points, but that’s okay!

Phineas and Ferb has often been random in its sense of humour, and Candace Against the Universe definitely continued that trend. Buford bringing a canoe into space is one example that I found funny, and every time the canoe showed up I was wondering if this would be the moment it would finally find a use. The joke about passing the speed of light was hilariously random too – seeing the different stages of animation all the way back to co-creators Marsh and Povenmire explaining the storyboard was breaking the fourth wall at its finest! Again, this is something Phineas and Ferb has done on a few occasions in the past, so this was a continuation of that theme.

Dan Povenmire (left) and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, the co-creators of Phineas and Ferb.

Doofenshmirtz’s lab being destroyed – as it so often was in the show – when the rocket launches was funny too, and shows how bad he is at planning! The post-credits scene where Lawrence steps through the boys’ portal into the still-burning lab was also incredibly funny, and was played pitch-perfectly by both the animators and voice actor Richard O’Brien. O’Brien actually created The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a little Phineas and Ferb trivia for you!

Am I overthinking it, or was the alien prison vehicle at least a little similar to the prison transport Jyn Erso is on near the beginning of Rogue One? Regardless, I loved the cowardly aliens that the gang met, and their city of Cowardalia. It was perhaps a little fast for Phineas and Isabella to inspire the cowardly aliens to take on their biggest foe, but they were cute so they get a pass!

The gang arrives in Cowardalia.

There were plenty of little jokes, too. The escape pods all launching at once because of the faulty alien Alexa device. Vanessa ending up on the planet and not being sent back to Earth. The photo Major Monogram has of Candace being attacked by a crab. The diversion song. The fact that when the aliens’ upper bodies explode it makes the sound “Candace!” Dr Doofenshmirtz insisting on being a leader while being vastly incompetent. All of these little jokes and dozens of others lent that same fun, random sense of humour to the film that fans of the show will have appreciated.

Vanessa’s calmness in the face of everything going on provided a contrast with Candace, and putting the two characters together worked well, especially in the beginning of the film. Olivia Olson, who provides Vanessa’s voice, has always felt like an underrated performer, but she gave it her all here. The jokes about Vanessa posting everything going on on her social media were pretty funny too – as well as setting up a way for Dr Doofenshmirtz to find her. The final act of the film also gave Vanessa a big role, taming a wild space dragon and flying the gang to safety.

Vanessa’s social media post.

The aesthetic chosen for the alien world (Feelba-Oot) was interesting. I kept trying to decipher the name of the planet – it feels like an acronym, but I can’t figure out what (if anything) it means! But back to the way it was designed, I liked the giant mushroom forest, and the brown-and-orange colour palette. It made for a suitably “alien” presentation, as well as being in the vein of some of the classic sci-fi films and series (including Star Trek) that Candace Against the Universe was drawing on for inspiration.

So the crux of the plot. The villain, named Super Super Big Doctor, has a plant which produces mind-controlling spores. She used the plant to conquer the planet, but the plant is old and dying. She believes Candace to be the only source of a special element that can restore the plant – but this turns out to be carbon dioxide, and after Candace tells her there’s loads of it on Earth, she tries to conquer Earth too.

Candace with Super Super Big Doctor.

We can skip the nitpicking and asking why Super Super Big Doctor didn’t realise other earthlings breathe out CO2. The answer is “because plot”, and it’s a kids’ movie so that absolutely gets a pass! The film was, as its title suggests, Candace’s story. And this setup takes Candace from depression to elation as she realises she’s incredibly important – then back to contending with the fact that she isn’t special. Candace comes to realise her unhappiness is tied to feeling inadequate and overshadowed by her brothers, who can perform incredible feats, and she longed to feel special. The mind-controlling plant and evil villain were just there to help her come to that realisation; this is still Candace’s story.

In that sense, Phineas and Ferb (and the rest of the gang) played second fiddle. That’s a bold move for a franchise returning from a five-year hiatus, to put Candace front-and-centre, and it could have backfired. But it didn’t – it worked spectacularly well. Candace provided the story with heart and emotion, and a genuinely satisfying character arc.

Candace with Phineas and Ferb.

It was great fun to have another adventure with Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, and the rest of the gang. I had high hopes for Candace Against the Universe, and I did not come away disappointed. Sometimes a high bar can be impossible to reach, but this time my expectations were met, and the film has to go down as one of the best I’ve seen all year.

The big question now is… will there be more from Phineas and Ferb? And if there are to be further adventures, will they take place in the form of a fifth season or of specials and feature films like Candace Against the Universe? It’s hard to predict right now, but if the film has performed well, I’m sure the team behind it will want to keep going and create more stories in this world. I’ll be very interested to find out if there is more to come, but if not, it’s fair to say that this one-off return saw the franchise go out on a high that surpassed its finale from five years ago.

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe is available to stream now on Disney+. The film is the copyright of the Walt Disney Company. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

2020 is halfway done!

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries listed.

The end of June is the halfway point of the year, and it’s a nice opportunity to take stock for a few minutes. This isn’t going to be a major recap of what’s come before (I’ll save that for my “end-of-year” article in December) but I thought it could be fun to talk about some of the things I’m looking forward to in the next six months.

I don’t really enjoy the summer season. The weather is too hot (yes, even in the UK it gets hot sometimes), there are annoying insects buzzing around all the time, and the sun rises at an obscene hour. Seriously, it gets light here by 4 o’clock! The summer months are also when television schedules tend to be lighter, as more folks concentrate on their summer holidays. The standard “television season” runs from September to April or May, and while of course there are still lots of things to watch at this time of year, there tends to be less of interest to me. The decline of traditional broadcast television as we enter an age of on-demand streaming has lessened the impact of this, however, which is fantastic!

Summer – wonderfully represented by this stock photo – can honestly just piss off. It’s the worst season of the year.

The biggest story of 2020 is of course the coronavirus pandemic. This has massively disrupted production and release schedules across the entertainment industry, and what should have been a big summer season for films is practically nonexistent right now. Even the Olympic Games, which were to take place in Tokyo, and the Euro 2020 football tournament have been postponed until next year, both of which would have been big events to enjoy this summer.

So under the circumstances, what am I most looking forward to? It has to be Star Trek, of course! You probably already knew that. Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is due out any time now, and I’m still hopeful that we’ll see Lower Decks debut before the end of the year as well, per the original plan. I’m really interested – and a little nervous – to see what kind of story Discovery will tell having left its 23rd Century setting behind. I’ve already taken a look at the trailer for the upcoming season, and you can find my thoughts on it by clicking or tapping here. I really expected that we’d have seen a tentative release date – or even just a release window – when Star Trek: Picard was on the air, as using that show to plug Discovery would’ve made sense. The latest news seems to be that post-production work is practically finished; I’m anticipating a release date any day now.

Star Trek: Discovery will be back any time now… I hope!

We should also be seeing the fifth season of The Expanse before the end of the year, and perhaps a second season of Netflix’s The Witcher series. The Expanse is an absolutely fantastic near-future sci-fi show, and if you haven’t seen it yet I honestly cannot recommend it enough. After an extensive fan campaign to save the show from cancellation, Amazon bought the rights and it’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video – which is where you can also watch the first season of Star Trek: Picard if you haven’t already.

The fourth season of Rick & Morty wrapped up only a few weeks ago, having been split into two blocks of five episodes. It had debuted back in November last year, and while I’d be surprised to see the fifth season show up so soon after the fourth – especially given the series is notorious for its long waits between seasons – I can’t help but be a little hopeful that Season 5 could follow Season 4’s model and kick off in the run-up to Christmas.

The Terror – a horror anthology series – had a great first season and an okay second season, and while there hasn’t been any official confirmation yet, it would be great to see Season 3 some time this year too. The Terror made great use of two historical settings; another mini-series coming out in August with an historical basis is The Good Lord Bird. This will follow a fictionalised portrayal of real-life abolitionist John Brown in the years immediately prior to the American Civil War. As a history buff, I’m hyped for that!

Ethan Hawke will star in The Good Lord Bird.

The 1932 novel Brave New World is being adapted as a series, and will star Alden Ehrenreich (of Solo: A Star Wars Story fame). Not to be confused with Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Star Trek series, this is one that I’m tentatively adding to my watchlist when it debuts in July. Also coming in July is Intelligence, a sitcom set at GCHQ – the UK’s cyber-security headquarters and starring David Schwimmer.

July is a big month, as it could additionally see the Disney+ original Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe. The exact release date hasn’t been revealed yet, which leads me to think it may have been delayed. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of Phineas and Ferb so I’m looking forward to it! Although several characters from the animated show have popped up in Milo Murphy’s Law, this will be the first proper reunion since 2015. Could a fifth season be on the cards if this one-off special is successful?

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe will debut on Disney+ sometime soon.

Changing genres – and tones – entirely, American Crime Story: Impeachment has nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House, but will instead focus on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. The first season of this anthology series back in 2016 looked at the trial of OJ Simpson, and I’m curious to see its dramatic take on the Clinton scandal. On CBS All Access – the new digital home of Star Trek in the USA – a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is scheduled to premiere. I put the first adaptation (from the 1990s) on my tongue-in-cheek list of things to watch while self-isolating, as it’s set in the aftermath of a plague. I’m curious to see how this new adaptation will unfold.

Speaking of plagues, The Walking Dead is getting a second spin-off. While I no longer follow the main series, as I feel it became repetitive and uninteresting somewhere around its fourth or fifth season, the new spin-off titled The Walking Dead: World Beyond promises to take a different look at the apocalypse. Fear the Walking Dead told a story set during the first days of the zombie apocalypse – something arguably missing from the original show – and World Beyond plans to look at the world more than a decade later, focusing on a new cast of younger characters. I’m curious, at least, to see what the producers have in store.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond will pick up the story more than a decade into the zombie apocalypse.

In film, there’s slim pickings at the moment. With cinemas tentatively set to reopen over the summer, at least here in the UK, things could pick up – but I think we need to be prepared for further delays and disruption if the pandemic situation changes. That being said, there are some films due out in the next few months as things begin to get back to normal. The King’s Man is the third entry in the Kingsman series of action-comedies, and has the potential to be a fun romp when it’s released in September. I enjoyed the first entry in the series as a send-up of Bond-esque films.

That leads us neatly to No Time To Die, which is set to wrap up the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films. Postponed from its original April slot, the film won’t release until November (which means I won’t get to see it until 2021). I’m expecting it to be an explosive finale – leading to a soft reboot of the 007 franchise in the coming years.

No Time To Die will be Daniel Craig’s last film in the role of the famous spy.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is the third entry in the series that helped make Keanu Reeves a household name. This one strikes me as an odd choice; the previous Bill and Ted films were very much of their time – the late ’80s/early ’90s. Returning to the franchise almost thirty years later is a bold move – will it pay off?

Starring Russell Crowe, Unhinged is billed as a thriller about a woman being stalked after a road rage incident. It has the potential to be interesting when it’s released in August. An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, a follow-up to the successful 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, is set for release in October. Though I’m not a big fan of horror in general, Antebellum looks potentially interesting, at least in its premise – a modern-day black woman is sent back in time to be a slave in the American south.

Disney is releasing another live-action remake of one of their classics: this time it’s Mulan, which is scheduled to arrive in late July; the film will feature Rosalind Chao of Star Trek fame in a co-starring role. The original Mulan was great, but I haven’t really felt any of the live-action remakes that I’ve seen so far have lived up to their source material. Hopefully Mulan can buck the trend!

Mulan will star Liu Yifei in the title role.

Another remake of Dune will be released in cinemas in December, and this time there will be an all-star cast including Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Stellan Skarsgård. I’m half-curious, half-nervous about this one. The novel Dune has been notoriously difficult to adapt, and the 2020 version aims to be the first part of a duology – the second part of which, I fear, may never see the light of day if the first part isn’t well-received.

The video game industry is already gearing up for the release of the next generation of home consoles. The Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 are set to launch in time for the holidays – probably in mid/late November. Along with the new consoles will be a slew of launch titles and exclusives – PlayStation seems to have the upper hand in that department.

The Xbox Series X (pictured) and PlayStation 5 are coming later this year.

Cyberpunk 2077 will be a huge title when it releases in November. From famed developer CD Projekt Red, this game has been on a lot of folks’ radars since it was announced way back in 2013. After being delayed twice already, and with the new console generation looming, the pressure is on to meet this latest release date.

Rocket Arena, which was announced during June’s EA Play presentation, looks like a fun multiplayer title in the vein of Overwatch. EA Play also showed off the trailer for Star Wars: Squadrons, which is set to release in October. A Star Wars game all about piloting X-Wings and TIE Fighters has been something people have been asking for for ages – older titles like Rogue Squadron were great, and this looks to be a modern incarnation of titles like that. Also coming in the Star Wars franchise is Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Promotional artwork for Star Wars: Squadrons.

As a history buff, and a fan of strategy games, I’m interested to see what A Total War Saga: Troy brings to the table. The Total War series has been running for a long time, and I remember fondly its earlier iterations like Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War – the latter of which must’ve been one of my most-played games of the early-2000s!

Ghost of Tsushima could well fill the role for the PlayStation 4 that The Last of Us did for the PlayStation 3: being the console’s swansong and ending the generation on a high. A third-person action-adventure following a samurai as he battles the Mongols, this game has been looking amazing in pre-release marketing.

There’s still the possibility that Watch Dogs Legion and the remake of Star Wars Episode I Racer will be out before the end of the year. And there will be new entries in EA Sports’ annual franchise games, such as FIFA 21. I will be curious to see how, if at all, the sports games address the massive disruption to this most recent season in their career modes and commentaries. Having not picked up a FIFA title since FIFA 18, I had been considering FIFA 21 – it’s hard to justify buying new iterations annually, but after a three-year gap I should hope to find improved gameplay!

Placeholder image for FIFA 21.

There will be a weird Marvel’s Avengers game – weird because the developers didn’t get the rights or licenses to make their characters look like the actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the game seeming to make use of an otherwise similar aesthetic. Hopefully that won’t be too jarring! Twin Mirror and Tell Me Why are also scheduled for release this year, and are from the team behind Life is Strange and Vampyr. And finally, a second remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 is due out in October. Unlike the version currently available, which took the older titles of the Dreamcast era and upscaled them, the new game bills itself as a full-on remake.

So that’s it. Well, that isn’t necessarily it, but that’s all I could think of that I’m looking forward to between now and Christmas based on what’s been announced (and what we can guess or assume is coming). Hopefully there will be a few surprises in there too.

If I had to pick a number one right now, it would be Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. But there are plenty of other things to look forward to!

All titles and properties listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, developer, publisher, or company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.