‘Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe’ is the franchise’s most satisfying story yet

A promotional poster for "Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe" (2020) is pictured. via IMDB

The Phineas and Ferb franchise grows even bigger with the addition of “Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe” (2020), a Disney+ film that follows stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb as they rescue Candace, their sister, from aliens with a sinister goal in mind. It’s certainly impressive that creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh were able to find another adventure to add to Phineas and Ferb’s already jam-packed summer; it’s perhaps even more impressive that “Candace Against the Universe” is the franchise’s most mature and satisfying story yet.

Throughout its 133 episodes (222 segments, considering most episodes are split into two stories), an animated Disney Channel Original Movie (“Across the 2nd Dimension,” which aired in 2011) and multiple specials — like “Star Wars” (2014) and “Mission Marvel” (2013) — the franchise never failed to tell intelligent and witty stories. There are episodes about science fair portals to Mars, disco miniature golf and trips to the United Kingdom that can appeal to audiences of any age. It’s never strictly a children’s animated show — although for audiences who watched “Phineas and Ferb” (2007–2015) while it aired, there’s certainly a strong sense of nostalgia surrounding it — and it never veers too far into appealing to adult audiences. Rather, it’s a show for everyone. A show whose mature themes and comedic gags make it a perfectly balanced viewing experience.

And “Candace Against the Universe” captures that balance better than any previous Phineas and Ferb story. It’s been five years since the series ended, but releasing a Disney+ film feels like an easy jump back in. And this time, Candace is our focus. While it’s certainly easy to say that this film finally gives Candace her moment, it’s not exactly the sharpest point to make. While many episodes rely on her desire to bust her brothers for their crazy antics, Candace often bonds with her brothers (“Mom’s Birthday,” perhaps one of the series’ best, comes to mind) or finds herself caught up in the fun of whatever they’ve built that day. She also enjoys plenty of screen time — many episodes and specials focus on her conflicting desires to bust her brothers and enjoy teenage summer fun.

Rather, it might be better to say that “Candace Against the Universe” is really the first story where Phineas and Ferb have to come to terms with the differences and conflicts between them and Candace, specifically Candace’s feelings of inadequacy. It’s a topic that the show hasn’t always had time to delve into, but it’s certainly a glaring issue; with her genius brothers building amazing inventions and cool contraptions every day, it’s no wonder Candace is so hell-bent on getting attention, or at the very least, feeling validated. And “Candace Against the Universe” hits on that idea. When Candace arrives at the alien planet Feebla-Oot and meets Super Super Big Doctor, the planet’s ruler, the two connect over their feelings for their brothers. Super Super Big Doctor makes Candace feel special, telling her that she has “Remarkalonium,” a substance that’s far less remarkable than it sounds.

When Candace learns the truth behind “Remarkalonium” (it’s carbon dioxide) and that Super Super Big Doctor needs it for her mind-controlling plant Mama, she’s immediately broken. She’s no longer special — no one is. There’s certainly some greater commentary here about how we all contain “Remarkalonium,” or rather something remarkable that makes us special, but the film doesn’t harbor on that too much. But it does give Candace the opportunity to prove herself. She saves the day with the help of her brothers, now beginning to understand just how much they mean to her.

It was important for the film to focus on Candace — she’s possibly the most dynamic character in the show — and her feelings. Despite Phineas and Ferb mostly relying on a reset button at the end of each episode, Candace is one of the only characters to have plots (her relationship with Jeremy) that we see clear development and changes in. And the show plays with that, often putting Candace in situations where she has to interrupt her teenage life to attempt to bust her brothers.

But “Candace Against the Universe” allows Candace to fully focus on herself and her relationship with her brothers. And that’s important. For a character who can sometimes be so stuck in the rut of busting and failure, this film is a freeing experience. It’s a heartwarming story for all ages and certainly proves just how wonderful Phineas and Ferb continues to be.