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Phineas And Ferb Fly Away Forever on an Aerial Area Rug

This Father’s Day, look back on an animated era of great parenting

Marjorie Ingall
June 17, 2015
Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. (Phineas and Ferb Wikia)
Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. (Phineas and Ferb Wikia)

The last episode of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb aired last week. As I have rhapsodized on this site before, Phineas and Ferb isn’t just great kiddie TV. It’s great TV, period.

And now it’s dead.

But it had a great run–126 episodes, dozens of goofy songs, five one-hour specials including a Star Wars parody and a Marvel Comics-themed show, and a TV movie. And Disney has announced an hour-long special, The O.W.C.A. Files, about Agent P (Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, who unbeknownst to his owners is actually a secret agent for the Organization Without A Cool Acronym), airing this fall. Phineas and Ferb creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, however, have committed to a new series for Disney called Mikey Murphy’s Law, which will begin airing sometime in 2017. A number of P&F writers and producers will join them; Povenmire and Marsh promise that this new show will share P&F’s quirky, creative, optimistic vibe.

As I said in my earlier story, Phineas and Ferb are the kind of kids any Jewish parent would be proud to raise: They’re self-starting, resourceful, energetic, curious, polite, and kind. They are not the self-consciously clever fashion-victim brats who populate live-action Disney TV. And the dads on the show–Ferb’s father/Phineas’s stepfather Lawrence Fletcher and evil scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, father of non-evil Vanessa–reflect good parenting values themselves.

Wait, you may say, isn’t Dr. Doofenshmirtz evil? How can he have good parenting values? Well, he’s really bad at evil. (As Vanessa tells him, in classic fourth-wall-breaking style, “You’re basically a nice guy who’s pretending to be evil. And, you know, it seems like it’s all out of obligation to your backstories, not something that truly comes from your heart.” In the last episode, Doof decides to try being a hero, since he’s failed so utterly as a bad guy.)

Doof adores Vanessa, and though he’s as clueless and abstracted as most modern-day dads, he wants to provide a good life for her. In the finale, he finally succeeds at his series-long goal (the show debuted in 2007) of taking over the “Entire! Tri-state! Area!” He hopes that becoming “tri-governor” will make Vanessa proud and will allow him more time to spend with her instead of building invariably-flawed evil machines (the Chicken-Soupinator, the Bake-Sale-Obliteratorinator, the Monkey-Enslavinator, the Mime-inator, the Aerosol-Propelled-Ozone-Depletinator…), but discovers that there are always challenges to spending time with kids and finding fulfilling work. So he quits, hoping instead to work with Vanessa at O.W.C.A. Given that Doofenshmirtz himsef was born to neglectful parents (neither bothered to be present at his birth!), in poverty, in the tiny Eastern European shtetl of Gimmelshtub (I was bummed when I discovered the name of the town was not, indeed, Gimmelshtupp, which is what I’d chosen to hear), and raised largely by ocelots, his determination to do right by his daughter is especially notable.

Like Doofenshmirtz, Lawrence Fletcher spent time as a single dad. (We never find out what happened to Ferb’s birth mom.) But he and Linda have built a beautiful blended family–Phineas and Ferb’s sis Candice calls Phineas and Ferb her brothers, not her brother and step-brother. Showing healthy stepfamilies was a passion for co-creator Marsh, who was raised in a blended family. Like Doofenshmirtz, Lawrence is preoccupied and geeky, but also cool in his way. He’s an antiques dealer and historian who loves dad-rock music (but fell in love with Linda at the pinnacle of this show’s musical coolness, a Love Händel concert) and fishing. He adores and respects his wife. And he is voiced by Richard O’Brien, aka Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Both dads on the show give their kids a great deal of freedom. They’re not grades-obsessed; their kids aren’t over-programmed. Indeed, the entire theme of the show is that there are 104 days of summer vacation, and Phineas and Ferb are determined to make the most of them by inventing fabulous things all summer long.

The final episode, fittingly called “Last Day of Summer,” wasn’t the best episode ever, alas. But it makes references to both Groundhog Day and Doctor Who (and also to Stephen King’s The Langoliers, because, as Marsh says, “kids love Stephen King references—almost as much as they love Tom Stoppard references.” Which the show has also made.) Along with their math-genius nerd friend Baljeet, the kids sing:

Every day of summer,
We’ve given a hundred percent.
But today, we’ll give a hundred and one.
Baljeet: But that is not mathematically possible…
Phineas: You know what we mean!
Baljeet: Yes, I understand: Hyperbole.

Doofenschmirtz convinces Vanessa to continue to live with both him and her mother, even though Vanessa’s angry at him for focusing too much on work. As he and his robot butler Norm discuss:

Doofenshmirtz: Why would Vanessa want to move out?
Norm: Let’s see if we can solve that little mystery! (Presses button)
Norm’s speaker: (Doofenshmirtz’s voice) Hey, Vanessa, hand me that cadaver.
Norm: Or! (Presses button again)
Norm’s speaker: (Doofenshmirtz’s voice) Honeybun, if you go into the living room and see a pile of skin flakes, just ignore it.
Norm: Or! (Presses his button again)
Norm’s speaker: (Doofenshmirtz’s voice) I know you said the time machine in the bathroom was a bad idea, but if you need to go, you should do it last week.

Farewell, Phineas and Ferb. We’ll miss you. See you in reruns.

P.S. Israel loves Phineas and Ferb too. Please enjoy this Hebrew version of a classic P&F song with your children this Father’s Day.

Related: Dynamic Duo

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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