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Quick wit, funny characters drive ''Phineas and Ferb''

It's not too often that parents and kids can sit and watch television together. Sporting events, maybe some of the tamer reality shows like American Idol or Dancing With the Stars (sans Lil Kim's near wardrobe malfunction).

But my family has found a cartoon that's fun for parents and kids. Frankly, any adult would like it because it's from a couple of the guys who have worked on The Simpsons and Family Guy. But while those two shows can make parents squirm a bit if they are watching with kids, Phineas and Ferb will not. It has all the craziness of those shows without the ribaldry.

The show, which premiered in 2007 and is now on Disney XD, mixes the antics of the title characters, the family and friends who revolve around them and original music into two fast-paced episodes each half hour. (There are occasions when one episode takes up the entire show). The characters are the creation of Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, who met while working on The Simpsons. Both also provide voices for characters on Phineas and Ferb.

For the uninitiated, the title characters are stepbrothers — Phineas Flynn, who talks a blue streak, and Ferb Fletcher, who is more a kid of action — who build out-of-this-world contraptions or get into crazy predicaments during their summer vacation. They always are back in place before their mom gets home which drives their teenage sister Candace crazy. They also have a pet platypus, Perry, who is a secret agent doing battle with the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Yes, a secret agent platypus who is in an all-animal force. Yes, it's pretty trippy.

On the occasion of a new episode premiering Saturday on the Emmy-nominated show, we had a chance to ask Povenmire and Marsh about the Fletcher-Flynn blended family, what's next for the characters and that giant floating baby head. I said it was trippy.

How does a guy who worked on the cutting edge Family Guy wind up doing a show on Disney?

Povenmire: Well, I also worked on SpongeBob SquarePants and I like to think that Phineas and Ferb is the exact artistic midpoint between Family Guy and SpongeBob. I'm not even sure what that means, but it does seem true.

What's the difference between doing a show like Family Guy and doing Phineas and Ferb?

Povenmire: Well, the language, of course . . . But the actual biggest differences are the budget and schedule. Prime time animation like Family Guy just has a lot more time to spend on a project. At Phineas and Ferb, we do in a week what would take months when I was on Family Guy so we're sort of going full steam ahead constantly.

Will there be a Star Wars take off on P&F like there was on Family Guy?

Marsh: We've got an episode coming up that lampoons a few of our favorite Sci-Fi films. There are more than a few Star Wars references, but it's definitely not a full ''take-off''. We got Lorenzo Lamas to do a voice for it!

How hard is it to work a musical number into every show?

Marsh: Some shows are easier than others, but it's always one of the most fun parts of the show to do. Sometimes, the song just seems to "write itself" and other times it takes a bit more fiddling to figure out what is going to work best. It almost never takes us more than an hour though. Dan and I have found that we can write a song about almost anything in about an hour.

Where do you get your inspiration for P&F — was it your childhood or do your children have something to do with it?

Marsh: Dan and I both grew up in very creative environments. Our parents definitely encouraged us to get out and do things and were really supportive of almost any kooky thing we dreamed up. Neither of us spent much of our summer holidays sitting in front of the TV. We built forts, go-karts, put on plays, made movies and a whole variety of crazy projects. Having kids now helps keep that spirit of curiosity and energy alive. We are both often inspired by our kids . . . And in my case, my grandkids as well.

Do your kids think you are the coolest dad ever or do they give you grief like most kids give their parents?

Marsh: A little bit of both I think. We can definitely be the coolest parents possible in their eyes, but that doesn't stop them from being frustrated by us and even embarrassed by us from time to time, we can both be pretty silly.

Povenmire: My kids are both under 4 so they think I'm cool just because they can climb all over me like a jungle gym. Basically, I'm playground equipment.

Explain a little back story to me: How did Candace and Phineas' mom get together with Ferb's dad? In "Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together", they seemed very young. What happened to the other spouses?

Marsh: It's a question we don't feel compelled to answer. It's not important to the kid's lives. They are a great blended family and that's all we need to know.

Povenmire: Suffice it to say that the original parents have been out of the picture since the boys were very young and they are now simply a family.

Do you think you are helping those blended families out there who might have a little more difficulty accepting a new sibling who is the same age?

Marsh: Gosh, I hope so. I grew up in a VERY alternative family structure and never felt that the media portrayed that type of family enough for it to feel ''normal'' even though at least half of my friends we're from divorced households and blended families. We just felt that blended families had been underrepresented in cartoons and thought it would be a nice change.

This might sound a little crazy but Phineas and Ferb seem to complete each other. Is there someone in your life like that?

Marsh: For me, there isn't one person, it's my whole family. And, it doesn't sound crazy. Dan?

Povenmire: My wife and daughters complete me in ways I didn't even know I was unfinished.

Most dads on cartoons (The Proud Family, Danny Phantom, Fairly OddParents, Jimmy Neutron) are pretty silly and P&F's dad seems no different, although maybe not as broadly crazy as some of the others. Who do you base him and their mother on?

Marsh: We think characters are funnier if they are more believable, natural and honest. Dad is what I would consider to be a classic British eccentric. He's a lovely fellow with some fun idiosyncrasies. He's really just a loveable guy who's a bit befuddled and clueless from time to time. He doesn't seem to grasp the gravity or enormity of what the boys do. He's a lot like my stepfather, Bill actually, (except that he's British).

Mom is based on Dan's sister, Linda — over to you, Dan.

Povenmire: Linda is like this super mom who is raising these really smart, creative kids and she is absolutely unflappable. Whenever I write mom dialogue, I just think of how (my sister) Linda would react in that situation. When I showed her the original pilot pitch, she said she loved the way I was voicing the Mom. I said, "You know who I'm doing there, don't you? I'm doing an impression of you!" She laughed for about five minutes.

Will we hear any more about the one-hit wonder career of Lindanna?

Marsh: We're working on an episode right now that lets us see a little more of Lindanna. We've wanted to see more of her since she first appeared. Lindanna is one of our favorite things about Mom.

Povenmire: Late in second season, the kids will actually find out about mom's earlier celebrity.

What's been your favorite P&F episode so far?

Marsh: I'm still partial to the first episode we ever made, "The Rollercoaster." Second would be either "Dude, We're Getting The Band Back Together" or "Meap", the space episode that's premiering (Saturday).

Povenmire: I love those, I also really like "Don't Even Blink" and "Time Machine 2, Quantum Boogaloo" which are coming out in second season.

How did you decide on a pet platypus? And how did you decide to make him a secret agent?

Dan and I love action sequences and wanted to have an element in the show that let us do that kind of thing. The platypus was a truly under-used animal and we just thought it lent itself to lots of humor. He's got a duckbill, a beaver tail and he's furry! How funny is that?! Also, no one knows very much about platypuses, so we were free to make stuff up and no one would know!

One last question: What is with the giant floating baby head? (It's shown up in several episodes). We like it a lot when Candace says, "What does that even mean?"

Povenmire: That came from one board panel drawn by Mike Diederich and one of our directors, Rob Hughes thought it was hilarious and made a whole bit about it. Now it shows up all the time.

Marsh: We try not to think too much about the floating baby head . . . It makes us laugh, 'nuff said.

Information from Times files was used in this report. Sherry Robinson, who writes for the Whoa, Momma! blog and edits the Go Momma web page on tampabay.com, can be reached (727)893-8305 or robinson@sptimes.com.

New show today

Phineas and Ferb "The Chronicles of Meap Parts 1 & 2" will air at 8 a.m. today on Disney XD.

Quick wit, funny characters drive ''Phineas and Ferb'' 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 5:36pm]

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