Dr. Toon: Steal and Steel – Phineas, Ferb and Marvel Unite
In this summer of big-bang animated releases, a notable event took place on a cable station. The Disney Channel has been promoting a special episode of their highly ranked series Phineas and Ferb featuring some unusual guest stars. When Disney bought Marvel Entertainment three years ago, it was inevitable that some horizontal integration would result. The only real questions were “when?” and “where?” One would expect the event would be a much-hyped big screen spectacular, but it appears that the ongoing Avengers saga is the company’s current concern in that regard. However, as in any comic book series, superheroes really can seem to be in two places at once with no loss of continuity. Thus, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Nick Fury will be dropping in on Danville.
Since no superheroes should go unopposed, MODOK, the Red Skull, Venom, and Whiplash will be amending their busy schedules to wreak their usual havoc. Phineas Flynn, stepbrother Ferb Fletcher, and sister Candace (on the side of the angels for once), will be assisting the aforementioned heroes. They’ve been de-powered, you see, by Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz, but we can stop on that note.
Where we pick up is the negative reactions of some fans and critics of the crossover, Disney’s allegedly cavalier treatment of Marvels’ heroes, and the show itself as a crossover platform. Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew, no critical lightweight, finds the situation deplorable. Other fans, who tend to be the geek-purist type, are equally incensed. Yet others are excited about this unusual one-shot deal and don’t see why it can’t work.
It seems to me that the issue isn’t really Marvel’s Superheroes popping up on a kid’s cartoon; the bigger concern is that, if Disney uses the Marvel characters in such a manner, what won’t they do with these iconic heroes? Will they be riding to the rescue of Princesses or popping up in some future Toy Story flick as long-lost compatriots of Buzz Lightyear? Can Disney the megacorporation be trusted to preserve the integrity of the Marvel Universe?
First things first. As far as the Marvel Universe goes, Disney owns the characters lock, stock, and Cosmic Cube. If the Mouse wishes to have gardener Wolverine attempting to outwit Chip and Dale, so shall it be. It makes sense, though, that even with profit maximization on the line, Disney would never stoop to such foolishness; we will likely never see Doctor Doom harassing Donald Duck. Disney does seem to realize that to many, the Marvel characters are sacrosanct. So the question becomes, did Disney truly cross a line when they brought some of Marvel’s storied heroes and nastiest villains to an animated kid’s show?
Well, Disney is crossing no line in animation that hasn’t been crossed(over)before. Scooby Doo and his gang teamed up with Batman twice in 1972 (The New Scooby Doo Movies) and again in 2011 (Batman: The Brave and the Bold). Since there were no websites, blogs, and a much small geekdom back then, no significant noise resulted. In addition, Batman was in a distinctly campy phase at the time, very different from the disturbed vigilante of Frank Miller’s reboot. Hanna-Barbera also attempted to augment their superhero cartoons with creations of their own. Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog had admittedly few fans, as did the lamentable Wonder Twins, but HB took that creative risk. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman appear to have survived it unscathed.
I am not a rabid fan of Phineas and Ferb; Disney has done better. It seems to me a passable animated series enriched by a few good running jokes, some clever musical numbers, and some rupturing of the “fourth wall”. Still, Jeff Marsh and Dan Povenmire, whom date back to Rocko’s Modern Life, are experienced pros who know the ingredients of a good cartoon show. P&F is a fan favorite, currently Disney’s longest-running series. Since P&F often has a sci-fi flavor, the Marvel heroes might seem more at home. Disney was prudent in using its front-runner as a base to launch a crossover; the heroes weren’t wasted on just anybody’s show.
A glance at the trailer reveals that the Marvelites are on a different stylistic wavelength than the other characters. P&F uses, for the most part, angular character designs with unrealistic proportions. They are distinctly cartoony in relation to the depictions of the Marvel heroes and villains. It might have been tempting to go in the direction of say, 80’s fanboy comic artist Fred Hembeck and design the Marvel heroes as pure cartoons, but the artists appear to have resisted this approach. This suggests, at least to me, that Disney is giving some measure of respect to the Marvel Universe.
These same heroes, (along with Captain America and the Black Widow) are getting ready to appear in a live-action tussle with Thanos in a year or so. By that time, any involvement with Phineas and Ferb will be long forgotten as ticket sales climb to untold heights. This one-shot special seems hardly a precursor to a full-blown exploitation of the Marvel brand. Although many animation fans may feel that Disney can’t be trusted with much these days, stealing the Mighty Avengers and Spidey for an episode of Phineas and Ferb is a silly, minor transgression at worst. Rest easy, ye purists; ain’t really no biggie.
(If, however, MegaMouse ever did do a serious-minded crossover, I’d love to see an assemblage of Marvel heroes team up with/against The Incredibles, whose return to the theaters would be among the most welcome events in recent animation history.)