Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars DVD Review: A Parallel Adventure in the Galactic Empire

Disney's inventive duo run amiably amok through the story of Star Wars: A New Hope.
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Phineas and Ferb works almost entirely on the basis of their engaging formula. While there have been occasional efforts to shake things up, the broad strokes are usually present in some manner: Phineas and Ferb, step-brothers with a knack for invention and a boundless positivity, come up with some crazy new gadget/theme park/wild concept and execute it flawlessly, all while their sister Candace tries to get them busted with their parents, because she feels that's the moral duty of an older sister. At the same time, their pet duck-billed platypus Perry is actually a secret agent (Agent P) who foils the evil, though generally incompetent Dr. Doofenshmirtz and his latest scheme to take over the Tristate area. And there's usually a song.

On the surface, strict adherence to a set formula might make the show look either lazy or routine, but it works to the economized entertainment value of the series, allowing it to develop a shorthand with the audience, along with several built in spaces for running jokes. It helps that the writers interpret their formula very liberally, encompassing all kind of adventures that aren't always invention-related.

Even the perpetual battle between Agent P and Doofenshmirtz is more cordial than confrontational. Stakes are never terribly high, and puns and gentle good humor rule the day. Eventually, even real villains like Buford the bully have become mollified and turned into slightly prickly regulars instead of antagonists. Phineas and Ferb does many things well, but not serious consequential conflict.

So, how well does this all fit into a world so rife with conflict that "Wars" is in the title? Is it a legitimate creative success, or just corporate synergy, leveraging two properties the Disney Company happens to own? How does the Phineas and Ferb worldview connect to the battle between the Rebels and the Empire?

The answer is, pretty well. Set during the events of A New Hope (the first Star Wars movie if you're old, the fourth if you're young) Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars places its characters in a parallel story with the film's, playing small but significant roles in the lives of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.

In this world, the boys are a pair of Tatooine dwellers, who (improbably) love the desert planet so much, their introduction is a song about how they never want to leave. Already, they present a strict contrast with the wanderlust that inspires Luke Skywalker's adventures off planet. Phineas and Ferb are hyper-competent within the limited milieu they allow themselves, but have a deeply contented lack of ambition towards the greater world. But it's okay. They're kids.

They visit Luke Skywalker, joke about him wistfully looking off into the sunset, and are content to go about their Tatooining until they end up giving R2-D2 a ride in their landspeeder, and when he leaves, he leaves behind a CD-r with "Death Star Plans" written on it in permanent marker. (These plans were stolen earlier by Agent P, who is, of course a spy for the rebels when he isn't being a normal platypus.) It's only good manners for them to return the R2 Unit's property to him, so they go flying after the Millennium Falcon with Isabella (a girl who crushes hard on Phineas) who has a particular grudge against Han Solo for beating her in the Kessel Run. Doofenshmirtz is a low-level Sith who wants to be as evil as Darth Vader, so he invents a Sith-inator to make him more Sithy. Candace is a stormtrooper who wants to get in on some major busts, but is stuck buying socks for Darth Vader.

How well it all works depends mightily on knowledge and affection for both franchises. If you think a Star Destroyer with an enormous administrative building attached, complete with guys wearing short-sleeved shirts and ties along with their stormtrooper helmets is amusing, there's plenty here for you. It plays inside the Star Wars universe and has fun with it, but not at its expense. Compared to some of the other Phineas and Ferb hour long specials, there isn't as strong an emotional core here, even though there are some surprising character conflicts, including an eventual rift between our main heroes (which might be a spoiler if the front cover of the DVD didn't make the nature of the rift completely obvious). It happens, but it doesn't hit too hard because the surrounding story is so ephemeral. This hour-length episode of Phineas and Ferb is dedicated to fun. It's a confection.

This Phineas and Ferb DVD comes with another two hours of Phineas and Ferb episodes, including 1.5 that have yet to air in America. If there's a theme to these episodes (and if there is one, it is tenuous) it is that about half of them break with the P+F formula. "Tales from the Resistance" (a complete episode that has not aired in America) is a continuation of the feature length Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension. "Doof 101", the other unaired half-episode, involves Doofenshmirtz's adventures teaching a high school class in non-evil science.

The Disney DVD strategy is one that makes sense for parents who want something to throw into the DVD player to keep the kids mesmerized for a couple of hours at a time. For anyone who wants full seasons of animated TV shows (even people who are old enough they should be worried about other things) the strategy is frustrating. As a Phineas and Ferb collection, Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars is okay - disjointed, but the episodes here have more good than bad. The Star Wars episode is far and away the most entertaining show on the disc, and for fans of both series should be a can't miss.

The disc also comes with a keychain, which is a figurine of Perry the Playpus encased in carbonite. It went straight onto my own keyring.

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