In a fair and just world, children would have access to safe homes, nutritious food, decent educations, and smart, funny TV shows they could watch and re-watch obsessively. In 2011, about all the powers-that-be can reasonably guarantee is the latter, thanks in large part to shows like the Disney Channel’s Phineas And Ferb. Since 2007, Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh’s snappy little cartoon series has entertained youngsters (and a fair number of their parents) with the adventures of two good-hearted, super-smart stepbrothers, who construct crazy inventions and defy their vindictive older sister Candace, all while their pet platypus Perry squares off covertly against evil-but-hapless scientist Heinz Doofenshmirtz. The appeal of Phineas And Ferb is immediately clear: The show is funny, fast-paced, and rooted in the “havin’ fun in the summertime” vibe that’s been the backbone of kid-friendly American entertainment since the days of AIP beach-party movies. It’s top-drawer escapism.
As a TV show, Phineas And Ferb typically packs two 11-minute stories into a half-hour block padded with commercials. Phineas And Ferb—The Movie: Across The 2nd Dimension clocks in at a relatively epic 77 minutes, and the expansion shows some strain at times. The story is clever, with mastermind Phineas and his reticent-but-capable brother Ferb finally discovering that Perry is a secret agent at the same time that all three of them are transported to an alternate dimension where Dr. Doofenshmirtz has finally realized his goal of conquering “the tri-state area.” After all the opposite-world particulars are established, Across The 2nd Dimension turns more action-oriented, in ways that deviate from what the series does best. But there’s plenty here to satisfy Phineas And Ferb fans, from the way the movie nods to the heroes’ past inventions to the way both Doofenshmirtzes collect coins “in case vending machines become the dominant race.” It’s hard not to be charmed by any movie that features dialogue like, “If I had a nickel for every time I was doomed by a puppet, I’d have two nickels… which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it’s happened twice, right?”
One of the pleasures of Phineas And Ferb is its lack of cynicism; the show makes fun of its own conventions sometimes, but never snidely or dismissively. Nevertheless, it’s an essential part of growing up for young people to embrace entertainment that’s rude, weird and/or smart-ass-y. So for kids who’ve outgrown Disney Channel but aren’t yet ready for Adult Swim, there’s Adventure Time, Pendleton Ward’s surreal yet oddly humane Cartoon Network series. The DVD Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People contains 10 11-minute episodes, each following hooded adolescent Finn The Human (voiced by Jeremy Shanda) and the magical Jake The Dog (voiced by Futurama’s John DiMaggio) as they wander through a strange landscape perched partway between a fantasy novel, an ’80s Saturday-morning cartoon, and a role-playing videogame.
In the tradition of ugly-looking, convention-flouting animated series like Ren & Stimpy, Adventure Time is overtly gross and vulgar, sometimes to a distracting degree, and it wears its raggedness almost like an affectation. But the show is impressively trippy and funny, and derives much of its humor from the notion that even in a world filled with freaky kings and mutant trees, people are still dealing with the same relationship issues that we do in our comparatively normal lives: how to be a good friend, how to be useful, and so on. The show’s core values remain admirable, even when espoused with the aid of flatulent lumps.
Key features: The Phineas And Ferb disc adds a bonus episode of the show (with commentary by Povenmire, Marsh, and staff writer/storyboarder Jon Colton Barry), deleted scenes, and an option to go straight to the movie’s songs; the Adventure Time disc contains only fact-sheets about the characters, accompanied by music from the series.