Phineas and Ferb are at their best in ‘Candace Against the Universe’

Phineas and Ferb

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

There’s nothing particularly new to be said about Disney’s ongoing love affair with the reboot. It’s a habit that’s recently seeped into nearly every sector of the conglomerate’s monolithic brand — though most glaring in the now annual “live-action” interpolations of big-budget animated tent poles. With Disney+ solidified as a streaming staple, mid-2000s Disney Channel series reboots have proven to be an easy source of nostalgia-driven exclusive content for the service. 

As a part of this trend, “Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe” feels somewhat inevitable. Directed and written by original showrunners Jeff “Swampy” Marsh and Dan Povenmire, “Candace Against the Universe” opens on Candace (Ashley Tisdale) having just failed once again to “bust” Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr.) in one of their daily sci-fi adventures. But before she’s given a chance to try again, Candace is abducted by a group of plant-worshipping aliens, and the rest of the show’s principal cast embark across the universe to rescue her. 

For returning fans of the series, it’s easy to see where “Candace Against the Universe” retreads familiar ground. The premise is similar enough to previous installments to invoke a sense of deja vu, and this particular character arc for Candace is certainly a well-worn path. But considering the appeal of the source material, it’s hard to count these as marks against the film. 

Indeed, “Candace Against the Universe” is uniquely positioned to succeed as a reboot exactly where similar attempts may fail. Because “Phineas and Ferb” made its self-imposed episodic formula an integral part of its comedic brand, “Candace Against the Universe” avoids much of the common reboot pressure to innovate its source material. To try anything too novel would almost be an act of betrayal. 

With this in mind, the film succeeds on many counts. Though some of the show’s more popular characters feel somewhat unutilized — Perry the Platypus in particular has relatively little to do — other leads are as charming as ever, given new depth in often unseen pairings. Dr. Doofenshmirtz (Povenmire) and Isabella (Alyson Stoner) are given an unexpectedly hilarious rivalry, with the exceedingly incompetent evil scientist asserting adult authority over the wise-beyond-her-years troop leader. 

Also worth praising is the film’s humor, which is for the most part just as punchy and off the wall as anticipated. Marsh and Povenmire maintain their brilliant sense of setup and payoff, their jokes foreshadowed with a seemingly one-off gag before being brought back for the punchline. From Baljeet’s repeated references to “Star Trek” surrogate “Space Adventure” to Doofenshmirtz’ surprisingly practical Chicken Replace-inator, the best gags of the film keep on giving, easily on par with some of the show’s best material.

Not all jokes in “Candace Against the Universe” are this effective, however. Though never enough to ruin the film’s momentum, there are several attempts at comedy that seem aimed for the show’s original demographic — whether they be cringe-inducing references to internet memes or simply juvenile pieces of dialogue that repeat one or two too many times. These moments are numbered and forgivable, however, and only momentarily bring audiences out of the film.

Less forgivable is the lack of a memorable soundtrack. The musical element of “Phineas and Ferb” has always been somewhat hit or miss, but the best songs manage to transcend the show and often achieve memetic and/or genuine appreciation. The same simply cannot be said for the music of “Candace Against the Universe,” which seems to have been included out of pure formulaic necessity. Often jarringly self-aware and nearly always underwritten, it suggests that composer Danny Jacob’s best work for the series is unfortunately behind him.

Though there’s plenty to be debated regarding the reboot trend, “Candace Against the Universe” may just be the best argument in its favor. Whether as a nostalgic return to the series or a first exposure, “Candace Against the Universe” embodies much of what is so loved about its source material. The film feels like an above-average episode of the original series in many ways — and more often than not, this is a mark in its favor.

Contact Olive Grimes at [email protected]. Tweet her at @ogrimes5.