Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, co-creators and writers of Phineas and Ferb, talk to TV Kids about making Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe for Disney+.
The zany antics of two school-age stepbrothers in the animated series Phineas and Ferb have engendered legions of loyal fans—kids and adults. In each episode, the two boys would come up with an improbable project to fill their summer vacation days, which would inevitably annoy their older sister Candace. All the while, their pet platypus Perry was working as a spy for the mad scientist Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, co-creators and writers of the series, have jumped back into this madcap world and created Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe. Povenmire and Marsh talk about the genesis of the movie, having to finish animation and editing during the COVID-19-imposed lockdown, and serving fans of the series while attracting new ones.
TV KIDS: How did the movie come about?
POVENMIRE: Gary Marsh [the president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide] gave me a call when we were finishing up Milo Murphy’s Law and said, Hey, they’re doing this new streaming service, and Bob Iger [executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company] has asked all the different divisions to contribute to it. They want stuff that is co-viewing-friendly, something kids and adults can watch together. Gary said, 40 percent of the audience of Phineas and Ferb was adults; would you like to do a Phineas and Ferb movie for the service? Swampy and I had just finished doing a crossover the year before with the Phineas characters and Milo Murphy’s Law. We were talking about how much fun that was and how much we had missed those characters. So we jumped right on it and said, Yes!
TV KIDS: Is your level of involvement in the movie the same as it was for the series? You wrote, drew the characters and voiced two of the characters. And did you still write songs?
POVENMIRE: Yes, we wrote lots and lots of songs. We did this movie more or less the way we did the original movie [Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension]. We tried at first to do the original movie like we did the series, which was we put two funny board artists who are also writers in a room and let them go crazy with the gags and stuff. But we found that doesn’t work on a feature because you give them a section and say, OK, we need to get from A to B here, this is your section. And they do what they do best, which is to go off on all these little tangents and make us laugh. Then when we put it all together, it’s seven-and-a-half hours long!
MARSH: We needed to connect the bits.
POVENMIRE: What you need in a feature is to get from one spot to another as expeditiously as possible while still making it funny. We ended up having to rewrite all of that first movie and throw out a lot of really great stuff just [because it was too long].
[With Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe], instead, we started with a script and allowed the artists and director to add on to that, and we were adding on to it constantly. In the editing room, we would rewrite stuff and have stuff written in, but it was a much easier process to come to the same results. And it wasn’t heartbreaking to throw out all this amazing stuff. Some of my favorite gags are ones that we threw out in the original movie.
MARSH: But if you start with a strong script and character arcs and you have a nice structure in place and a good foundation, it gives you the freedom to go and play a little bit when people come up with good ideas and ways of telling the story that we didn’t think of.
POVENMIRE: Swampy and I, with three or four writers from the original series, sat in the room and figured out the story. Then we split that out script-wise and everyone wrote their sections. We came back and we took a pass to make it all cohesive. I think it’s the best thing that we’ve ever done.
TV KIDS: Did COVID-19 impact production or editing? Did you have to do any work remotely?
POVENMIRE: We did. We were pretty thick into editing. Not all the animation had been finished yet. We were editing and calling retakes, and the tech team at Disney realized that we were probably going to have to go into lockdown in the next five days or so. They spent a hurried week buying equipment they could send home with every editor that would allow them, with internet security, to still access the files that are in the main computers at Disney, so we could all edit from home. It was a Friday when they said, We’ve got it. All the editors can pick up their package at this building tonight any time after 5 p.m. But that morning is when they shut down everything, and they were not allowed to go in and get their stuff.
TV KIDS: What did you do?
POVENMIRE: We were six hours away from being able to do it all from home, and they shut down. We had a week or so to figure out what protocols we needed to follow—because we didn’t want to be in violation—to get this stuff into the editors’ hands. They figured out how to do it, and all the editors got the machinery they needed to hook up to their computers. Then we were doing editing sessions that we would have been doing in the editing room, but we were on a Zoom type of chat. The editor would play a section, and I could pause it and actually draw on my screen because I have a tablet here, and it would show up [on everybody’s computer]. They would copy that and send it to the overseas studio or send it to the background artist or whatever they needed to do. It was more or less the same. It took a little more time, and the joke was that I finally got to see my editor’s face because I’m usually sitting behind her and just see the back of her head. But when we were on Zoom, Oh look, that’s Anne’s face! That’s what she looks like!
TV KIDS: Who had a more perilous journey: you getting the movie done or the characters in the movie?
POVENMIRE: We had never put anybody in real jeopardy in the series. [In the movie], Candace gets in real jeopardy, and the boys have to save her. [In the series, in each episode] Phineas and Ferb [have to decide] what are they building today. [But in the movie], Candace gets abducted by aliens. They realize that and have to figure out how to get there, save her and bring her back.
MARSH: The answer to your question is that they had it much more difficult than we did!
POVENMIRE: Yes! None of us that I know of got abducted by aliens during the editing process.
MARSH: I’m not saying that didn’t happen, we just don’t know about it.
POVENMIRE: Don’t quote me, but no one’s complained to me about it!
TV KIDS: How do you balance serving the loyal fans of the show against attracting new viewers?
MARSH: That was honestly one of the challenges of doing this.
POVENMIRE: This was the second story we did a full treatment on. The first story we did a full treatment on, the executives said this would be a great story if we were on the air and everybody was watching the show, but we want to bring new people in. They wanted to do something more accessible to people because there is a younger generation coming up that may not have seen Phineas and Ferb.
MARSH: It took some convincing to get us to believe that.
POVENMIRE: [Laughs] If you watched the series, there are lots of Easter eggs and lots of jokes specifically for you. But I feel like we’ve hit this nice balance where you’re not going to feel like you’ve missed anything if you are watching it for the first time, and maybe it will make you want to check out the series. The entire series is available on Disney+.
MARSH: It was a little bit like doing the series when we talked about doing jokes for the youngest kids in the room as well as throwing in some jokes for the adults and even some of the astrophysicists from time to time. We wanted to make sure there was something in there for everybody, so even if there may be an inside reference you have to be a massive fan of the show to love, don’t worry, two seconds later we have a joke for all the people who haven’t seen the show.
TV KIDS: Are there any procedures you had to implement while working remotely that you might use going forward?
POVENMIRE: I think the idea that people can work from home almost as efficiently helps in a lot of ways. You save the time that everyone is driving to and from work, especially in L.A. Anything that helps morale always helps the show get made. When people realize, Oh, I can do this and it will be easier on me; I can watch my kids at the same time, for example, I think you’re going to see a lot more people working from home a lot more often.
MARSH: I can’t wait to get back to the point where we’re all getting together in the same room to do the wacky brainstorming. But [until then], you will see a lot more people working at home. It’s going to increase the quality of their family life; they’ll have more time with their kids. They’ll be off the road.
The other technical thing I thought was cool is that we have found an efficient way to record voice actors from their homes. It’s not that we’ll do that all the time, but it certainly means there will be fewer problems if we have some difficulty with somebody who has a scheduling conflict or can’t travel. Whatever it is, we’ve got that down pat!
POVENMIRE: Swampy and I wrote the last song and the end credits after lockdown on FaceTime on our phones. I did a quick demo of it and sent it off. It turned out well.
MARSH: We were so pleased we could be so creative without having to be in the room with each other.
POVENMIRE: Yeah, because that’s bothersome!