Spare a thought for the older sibling of the children’s entertainment heroes. She’s the one who must watch, flabbergasted, as her stupid little brothers discover a portal to another dimension or build a roller coaster in the backyard. Imagine what it’s like: Of course no one believes you when you complain about your brothers’ exploits. Worse than that, though, is the ever-present feeling that nothing you do matters—that someone else is the center of the story, and you’re nothing special.
Candace, the uptight, extremely basic older sister of the beloved adventure-seeking duo Phineas and Ferb, has always had it bad. For scores of episodes over eight years of the original series, Candace reliably strove to bust her little brothers, who were forever getting into dangerous and fun summer vacation shenanigans. But just as reliably, the boys would get away with it. The evidence would conveniently evaporate or disintegrate or be whisked away just as her mom pulled up in the driveway. But finally, in Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe—premiering Aug. 28 on Disney+—Candace gets her due.
My kids were devoted Phineas and Ferb watchers nearly a decade ago, growing into the show’s rapid-fire dialogue and pop-culture references. The series’ curious-kid mix of brainy gags and repetitive plot elements was the perfect crucible for my kids to develop their own offbeat senses of humor. They haven’t watched in years, but when I mentioned to them that Disney+ had made a new Phineas and Ferb movie—the first Phineas and Ferb anything in five years—they instantly broke into the theme song, remembering every word.
The very funny Candace Against the Universe rewards the memories of kids like them (and their parents) who look back fondly on those days of watching the show. We all loved the reminders of the show’s running gags: the pet platypus who’s actually a secret agent, someone saying, “I know what we’re going to do today,” and of course hapless Dr. Doofenshmirtz—the evil mastermind whose madcap inventions, known as “-inators,” all feature poorly designed self-destruct buttons. (He doesn’t have a spaceship, he insists, “but behold my Galactic Travel-inator!”)
The show’s creators, Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh—who appear in their real-life forms in one particularly daffy meta moment—have clearly spent the past five years accumulating jokes for their characters’ eventual return. Candace Against the Universe is packed with silliness, delivered at a pace that rivals old Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedies—though Phineas and Ferb, intended to play smarter than those movies, leans into its nerdiness. It includes solid jokes about alien bureaucracy, a plot twist revolving around plant respiration, and a riff about transitive verbs. But it’s not all highfalutin! The movie’s best, most distasteful running gag is about an alien race whose torsos are oddly prone to explode, and the noise they make when they do.
And the movie is surprisingly moving in its focus on the character who’s often felt like the show’s biggest drag. It’s a canny move to make Candace the heroine of this new story. Longtime viewers like my kids are now closer to her age than to Phineas and Ferb’s, and will relate to Candace’s fears that she’s not special. When she’s kidnapped from the tri-state area by aliens who reveal that she’s the Chosen One, the only creature in the universe who can help them survive, she’s thrilled. Needless to say, things aren’t quite what they seem, and soon it’s Candace who has to foil evil, rescue her brothers, save the universe, etc.
Watching Candace Against the Universe with my delighted, now–Candace-aged Phineas and Ferb fans, I was so pleased to see a longtime second banana get her due. Behold, the show’s Interesting Character-inator: When killjoy Candace gets to be the center of a story, she’s just as brave, resourceful, and funny as her little brothers have always been.