Tomorrow night, Disney Channel’s Emmy-winning animated adventure series Phineas and Ferb goes big time when it gets spun into its first Disney Channel Original Movie. Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension, which premieres at 8 p.m., takes its cues from the series, of course, but the intent was to make the outing for main characters Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher — in true movie style — much, much bigger.
In 2nd Dimension, the pair discovers that their beloved pet platypus Perry is in fact a secret agent who battles evil on a daily basis, so they join him on an adventure that takes them to an otherworldly dimension where the truly evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz has taken over an alternate version of the Tri-State Area. When they find out that the evil doctor is planning to come back to their universe and take over their Tri-State Area, too, they put together a plan to stop him.
With merchandise and soundtrack albums and much more, the Disney Channel Original Movie is just the latest expansion of the Phineas and Ferb franchise, so we thought it high time to check in and find out more about the phenomenon that is this animated show. We called up series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh to walk us through how Phineas and Ferb both got its start — and how it got to where it is today. Read on for the chat with Povenmire and Marsh.
EW: I heard you guys originally developed Phineas and Ferb as a series back in 1993, but it didn’t make it onto the Disney Channel for 15 years. What took so long?
JEFF “SWAMPY” MARSH: It was a long time.
DAN POVENMIRE: It was 1993, and we started on the air in 2008, so it was about 15 years before we were on the air. It was probably 13 years before we actually got it sold.
JM: It was 2005 when you called first saying, “Disney may be interested.”
Did you have to make changes — or what was it that made it finally workable for Disney?
JM: There were no changes, really. We kept it to really minor stuff from when we put the package together back in ’93.
DP: I think half of it was changing our profile. I think [my work on] Family Guy helped them pick up the show. They were like, “Oh, Dan did Family Guy? We should pick up one of his shows.” Every place we showed it to in the beginning was interested in it at the lower levels, and when it would get up higher and higher and higher, someone would say, It seems to complicated. It seems like you’ve got two or three shows here, and I don’t know how you can do it in 11 minutes.
JM: With Disney, it was really a matter of the priorities and the goals at the network itself had changed. They came into a period where they decided they really wanted to go after the boys market, and we happened to be at the right place at the right time for us to pick us up.
DP: When we first pitched it to Disney they said “no” because they were not looking for anything with boys in the lead. Then about a year later they changed that policy and gave us a call out of the blue.
JM: We’d had so many conversations over the years, and we were like, “Oh, somebody’s got to take this, they’ve got to.”
What originally inspired you to create Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher and all their crazy adventures?
DP: I had drawn this little picture on one of those butcher-paper tablecloths in South Pasadena and brought it into work the next day. I said, “I like this guy. His name is Phineas.” And I drew some of the other guys when I got home, and we sort of built it around that. We based it on wanting to celebrate the imagination and resourcefulness of nine-year-old kids.
JM: Kids were spending so much time playing video games and watching VCRs that we wanted something that had kids being active.
Despite being a kids show, Phineas and Ferb is oddly palatable to adults. Do you keep that in mind while writing and creating the show?
DP: We just try to make a funny show and edit out anything that would make parents cringe as parents. You don’t want to put in raunchy humor in there or gross humor. I’m constantly cutting saliva jokes and booger jokes and fart jokes. They creep in, and I’m like, “No, that’s not this show.” I want a show that the parents can watch and enjoy on a different level.
JM: There’s plenty of shows out there doing that other kind of humor. We really don’t need to compete with them. If that’s your thing, go there. We just really wanted to keep it clever and intelligent and fun without going any place that is — for lack of a better word — easy.
DP: We’re just trying to make each other laugh in the writer’s room. As long as we can make us laugh, it doesn’t bother us if stuff is over the heads of the kids, as long as there’s another joke for the kids coming in the next five seconds.
You’ve had so many guest stars do voice parts on the series — everyone from Cloris Leachman and Tina Fey to Clay Aiken and Anna Paquin. And so many more. The movie features voice work from Doris Roberts and Maulik Pancholy, as well as regular cast voice work from Caroline Rhea and Ashley Tisdale. What appeals to celebrities about doing your show? How do you convince them to do the spots?
JM: We had these conversations, “Oh so-and-so would be great for this,” and we were just like, “We should go ahead and ask them, even if they’re a ‘big star.’ We should just ask them. You never know.” I remember so many times when I was working over the U.K., you’d ask people to do a voice who were definitely out of your reach, and I was always surprised at the number of times people would say, Oh, I would love to do something my kids could watch. You know, my theory is always: Ask ‘em. The worst they could say is no, and you move on. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.
DP: As the show became more and more successful, it became very easy to get anybody that has children because so many of them are watching the show. Sometimes they’ll approach us, or sometimes we’ll hear that someone is a fan. Sometimes they’ll talk about it on TV or things like that. Like Ben Stiller was recording something in LA Studios, where we record our voices, and he saw something up about Phineas and Ferb, and he said, “Wait, does Phineas and Ferb record here? I love that show!” And you know, so they told us and we called his people, and he came on the show. He did a Take 2 with us, which is this little live-action talk show we do with the animated characters. You know, we hear from people, Tina Fey loves the show. So we called Tina Fey, and she’s like, “Yes! I love the show. I’ll do it!” We just got to write a song with Slash. It was unbelievably awesome.
JM: He watches the show with his kids. He placed a call to our music department, just to say, “Hey, if there’s ever a possibility of doing anything…” Of course, we were tickled pink and thought, of course there’s plenty of possibility.
Speaking of the music, that’s a huge part of the Phineas and Ferb formula, right?
JM: It was always our plan, from the standpoint, we love writing music. We’ve been writing music for episodes we’ve written together since we were working together on Rocco. So we’ve always wanted to.
DP: We’re frustrated musicians from way back. We wrote a song for the second episode. We were a little worried about what the executives would think of the song and stuff. We pitched it to them with a demo of the song, and the one note was, Can we hear the song again? Then they said, “Can you write a song for every episode?” We were like, “Yes, yes we can.” We’ve written like 260 songs for the show now. We had several CD releases. The first one, they released it, it did really well on the kids chart and did really well on the soundtrack chart. It was No. 1 on both of those charts for a while. But it actually made it into the top 100 for all of pop music. We were up with, like, Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé in the middle of the top 100 on Billboard.
Besides the Emmys and soundtrack and ratings successes, what more qualitative or experiential things have happened to let you know that Phineas and Ferb has permeated the zeitgeist?
JM: I remember I was down in Santa Monica, and this was the first holiday season, so it was probably Christmas of 2008, I was at an ice skating rink with my son, and this little girl came skating by singing the “S’winter” song, and I started singing along with her, and she came over and sang all the lyrics and thought I was pretty cool for an adult who knew all the lyrics to the “S’winter” song. I just remember thinking it was the most bizarre thing ever. That was the first moment that I realized it was out there and it was connecting with kids. I just thought that was brilliant.
DP: I was in an airport in Miami coming back from Venezula, and in this airport, these two little Venezulain girls were playing with each other. One strikes a pose and says the name of Perry the playtapus in Spanish, and I just went, “Wow, that’s cool! It’s international!” They were using it to play, which made me really happy. It had become a part of their play experience, their imagination experience. They had no idea who I was. I don’t count it if it’s someone who knows I’m there.
And now, it’s a Disney Channel Original Movie. How’d you go about making your beloved series into a movie?
DP: The challenge was, we wanted it not to seem like an expanded episode. We wanted it to see big and epic and have real stakes, and so we did a much bigger story, but we wanted it to start off feeling like an Phineas and Ferb episode and just escalate to this place that like, Oh my gosh, how did we get here? Then we sort of bring it back down at the end to this nice, sweet little episode.
JM: We had to have the same touchstones, those familiar marks and some of the beats that make it Phineas and Ferb. Then we really had to take it off in a whole new scope and action-adventure direction. It was worthy of that scale.
DP: We’re very, very proud of it. It turned out as good as we wanted it to, which oftentimes is a hard mark to hit. We have a lot of episodes I really like, but you always see the mistakes and stuff.
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky