There are many eternal quests in cartoons: Wile E. Coyote’s countless attempts to capture the Road Runner, Pinky And The Brain’s plans to take over the world, and big sister Candace’s unwavering desire to bust her brothers on Phineas And Ferb. The high-strung sibling is determined to expose her younger brothers’ outlandish schemes to their parents, which would effectively put an end to their summer fun. Candace (Ashley Tisdale) maintains her quest despite the fact that the few times over the course of the beloved five-season Disney series when she did succeed in busting them (usually in a dream sequence or a time-travel snafu), the results proved to be disastrous. But the boys are having a great summer, and she is not (although she easily could, with nice boyfriend Jeremy [Mitchel Musso] and loyal best friend Stacy [Kelly Wu] in tow). Hence, Candace continues on her mission. But the fact that it never works out, even over 130 episodes (which came to a close in 2015), makes the teen feel like the whole universe is against her, a feeling that culminates in P&F’s new long-form feature: Candace Against The Universe.
Phineas And Ferb’s other long-form feature, 2011’s Across The 2nd Dimension, gave the series a chance to delve into one of its long-held constructs: the secret agent identity of P&F’s pet, Perry The Platypus (Dee Bradley Baker). Almost a decade later, Candace Against The Universe takes on the series’ other major plot point: Why does Candace want to bust her brothers so much? In an early scene with Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s daughter, Vanessa (Olivia Olson), Candace reveals that because Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr., replacing Thomas Brodie-Sangster) are obviously so special with their never-ending supply of amazing ideas, Candace doesn’t feel special at all. Soon after this almost-breakthrough, though, Candace and Vanessa are abducted by aliens, and Phineas, Ferb, Baljeet (Maulik Pancholy), Isabella (Alyson Stoner), and Buford (Bobby Gaylor) join forces with Evil, Incorporated’s Doofenshmirtz himself (series co-creator Dan Povenmire) to go find them.
Candace and Vanessa somehow get separated in space, but Candace is soon welcomed as the “chosen one” upon her arrival on a strange planet by Super Super Big Doctor, who had her own issues with pesky younger siblings. Finally, Candace feels special, so much so that when her brothers show up, she doesn’t want to head home with them. But Super Super Big Doctor is not all that she seems, and soon Phineas and Ferb et al. find themselves in a predicament that will take all their savvy know-how to escape from.
Part of the problem with Candace Against The Universe is the high bar that Phineas And Ferb continually set for itself over the course of those hundred-plus episodes: The kids have already been in space several times (going back to the very first rollercoaster episode) and have encountered Doofenshmirtz before, though no one appears to know him here. Previous special long-form P&F productions included the alternate Tri-State universe in Across The 2nd Dimension and 2013’s clever Mission Marvel mashup, in which Doofenshmirtz’s “power drain-inator” zaps the Avengers of their powers.
Compared to those inspired outings, the strange mushroomy planet of Candace Against The Universe fares poorly. The low-key, lackluster songs like “Girls Day Out” and “Unsung Hero” aren’t exactly Love Händel-worthy, and the Isabella/Doofenshmirtz duet “Adulting” is oddly cloying (although “Us Against The Universe” is an undeniably rousing pop song). Doofenshmirtz’s chicken-replace-nator is a good bit but is quickly overplayed. Some of the punchlines get oddly dark for the Phineas And Ferb universe, like the fate of Super Super Big Doctor’s brothers, or a creature that gets catapulted out into space and winds up trapped in orbit. The planet’s populace of Cowardalians appears to be trying to tell a story about bravery, but it gets bogged down with the movie’s subplots. And there are at least two endings too many.
That said, after a five-year absence, even an average Phineas And Ferb movie is a welcome one, if only just to hear the one-line jingles of “Perry The Platypus” and “Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated” again. Sadly, no one asks Phineas if he isn’t a little young for intergalactic travel. But creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh do add some fun meta bits for fans, like the gang being stumped by the ominous music that erupts whenever they look at the alien compound, or a spaceship that responds just like an Alexa. One intriguing scene gets broken down to its most preliminary sketches during a strenuous space trek. And Baljeet’s love for his favorite series, Space Adventure (a Star Trek spoof that bills itself as “an adventure in space!”), proves to be advantageous.
Best of all, Candace Against The Universe plays up the heart of the relationship among Candace, Phineas, and Ferb: For all her schemes, the show often revealed that Candace really does love her brothers. But this new movie makes a point to show how much they appreciate her as well. Tisdale has been killing it with her portrayal of Candace for years, so a chance for her character to take center stage and prove that she’s just as cool as Phineas and Ferb is long overdue. Whether this film is the ultimate culmination of Phineas and Ferb’s summer vacation—marking a turning point in the siblings’ relationship—remains to be seen. But ultimately, Candace gets to say, “I know what we’re going to do today,” in Candace Against The Universe, and it’s about damn time.