- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Here’s a quiz for cartoon lovers: What do you get when you combine “The Simpsons” acerbic pop culture references, “Family Guy’s” irony and the broad slapstick humor of “SpongeBob SquarePants”?

For veteran animators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, the result is “Phineas and Ferb,” a world populated by a pet platypus and a youth with a triangular-shaped head who has a penchant for turning his back yard into things like ski resorts, surfing beaches and monster truck rallies without his parents ever catching on.

“We always like to say ‘Phineas and Ferb’ is about the midway point between ‘Family Guy’ and ‘SpongeBob,’ ” says Mr. Povenmire, co-creator with Mr. Marsh of the show that airs every night this month at 8 p.m. on the Disney Channel. Beginning in March, it will settle into a regular time slot of 8 p.m. on Saturdays.

Mr. Povenmire says the show uses a lot of prime-time understated acting that is a “Family Guy” hallmark, “but we still have big cartoony stuff happening.”

The most cartoony would be Phineas’ triangular head — were it not for his pet, a platypus named Perry.

“The platypus is sorely underused in animation,” quips Mr. Marsh, who otherwise can’t really explain the selection of a semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal to play the sitcom role of the family dog.

Perry, however, is no ordinary platypus, even by cartoon standards. Unbeknownst to his family, he (or she) is also a secret government agent code-named P who regularly dons a hat and trench coat to save the world from the mad scientist Dr. Doofenschmirtz. This, while Phineas and his half brother, Ferb, are creating elaborate contraptions and events in their back yard.

The show skips back and forth between kid themes (Phineas and Ferb attempting to carve their sister’s face into Mount Rushmore, for example) to references only older people might get. The latter include the battles between Agent P and Dr. Doofenschmirtz, whose high comedy bears a striking resemblance to that found on old “Man From U.N.C.L.E” reruns.

Sometimes the episodes play to both audiences simultaneously, as when Phineas discovers that unique music phenomenon known as the one-hit wonder band and decides to have his sister, voiced by singer-actress Ashley Tisdale, front one. (Turns out mom and her friends had once been in a one-hit wonder band themselves.)

Such a slapstick dichotomy, says the show’s 15-year-old star, Vincent Martella (the voice of Phineas), should have families watching together.

“You don’t want a show that just the kids are going to be watching 24-7 and annoy the heck out of the parents. You want the parents to say, ‘I like watching this too,’ ” Vincent said in the community room of his family’s Hollywood Hills apartment complex.

Earlier in the day, the young actor, who also co-stars in the live-action show “Everybody Hates Chris,” was having his own Phineas-style adventure, taking driving lessons from his father in the parking lot.

“If you can get my dad to laugh, congratulations, because you’ve done something amazing,” says Vincent, looking over at his father. “But this show makes him laugh. It makes my mom laugh. It’s got jokes in there that I don’t understand but they do.”

It also has a motivational message for viewers, says Alyson Stoner, the 14-year-old actress who voices Phineas’ puppy-love interest. With all the crazy stuff Phineas and Ferb do, there is the reminder that kids shouldn’t be afraid to go outside and create their own backyard adventures.

“I don’t want my friends to be trying to build a roller-coaster in their back yard,” said Alyson. “But I’d like them to get up off the couch and do something active. … It’s kind of teaching kids that if you are dedicated and are motivated you can really do a lot with your life.”

Also appealing to young viewers is “Phineas and Ferb’s” all-star cast, which includes not only Vincent and Ashley, but Alyson from the “Cheaper by the Dozen” movies, Mitchel Musso of “Hannah Montana” and Caroline Rhea of “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch.”

The show is aimed at both ‘tween and teen audiences, and 16-year-old Mitchel says it has already won over one of the toughest members of that demographic, his younger brother.

“My mom and dad watch it of course because I’m on it. They have to watch,” he said. “But my little brother just loves it. He doesn’t always watch TV, but whenever ‘Phineas and Ferb’ is on, he’ll be there.”

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