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Things Only Adults Notice In Phineas And Ferb

Kids cartoons rarely get mentioned when it comes to shows that garner critical acclaim from grownups. Disney's "Phineas and Ferb" (2008 to 2015) was that rare show aimed squarely at kids that gained a cult following amongst adults. The series was feted by critics and awards organizations throughout its run and was once considered a possible rival of "SpongeBob SquarePants." 

"Phineas and Ferb" centers around a single summer vacation of the titular pair of enterprising brothers. Every day, Phineas and Ferb concoct a new and outrageous manner of passing the time, from building a rollercoaster in their backyard to creating a teleportation gateway to Mars. The brothers get their friends involved in their adventures while their older sister Candace wages a never-ending (but ultimately doomed) battle to "bust" her brothers by bringing their plans to the notice of their mother. 

Also in the mix is their pet platypus Perry, who is secretly a government agent who is called in daily to thwart the plans of the evil genius Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. At some point in the narrative, the adventures of Perry, Phineas, and Doofenshmirtz overlap without their becoming aware of it, leading to a peaceful resolution to the day's problems and Candace once again failing to bust her brothers. While this general premise can seem rather simple, the show adds many layers of clever subtext to its plots, some of which are aimed at adults. Here are certain aspects of "Phineas and Ferb" that older audiences will appreciate. 

Candace is not the villain

The closest thing to a villain that "Phineas and Ferb" has is the brother's older sister Candace. Sure, Doofenshmirtz is the stereotypical mad scientist bent on world domination, but the guy is too incompetent and ultimately too kind-hearted to be a true threat. The biggest danger in each episode is posed by Candace threatening to spoil everyone's fun by snitching on her brothers' to their mother.

However, the truth is that Candace is acting as any responsible big sister should! "Phineas and Ferb" operates by the logic of a sort of magical realism in which no grownup bats an eye at the two tween brothers making all sorts of insanely dangerous machinery. Candace is the only one who ever reacts with proper amazement and fear at seeing what new daredevilry her little brothers plan to get up to each day. 

If anything were to happen to Phineas or Ferb (and the two have had many narrow squeaks over the course of the series), the blame for the incident would fall squarely on Candace's shoulders. After all, she is always put in charge of their safe keeping while their mother runs her daily errands. Candace does love the thrill of busting Phineas and Ferb, but she has shown time and time again that she genuinely cares about her brothers and would be heartbroken if anything happened to them.   

Doofenshmirtz had a hangover

Befitting his status as a villain in a children's cartoon, Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz rarely does anything that can be classified as truly "evil" in the adult sense of the word. In fact, Doofenshmirtz very rarely acts like an adult. In many ways, he is a big man-child who seems perpetually stuck in adolescence thanks to a frankly horrific upbringing that stunted his emotional growth.

Still, there are times when Doofenshmirtz is shown to have gotten up to more "adult" activities, even if the action takes place off-screen so that the show's younger audience does not pick up on the hints. Case in point, the time Doofenshmirtz mentions he has a headache because he had been at an evil mixer all night. 

Clearly, Doofenshmirtz was suffering from a major hangover after getting drunk the night before at the mixer. It's actually nice to see Doof taking part in such a social activity since the series often goes to great lengths to underline that the evil doctor has no close friends aside from his arch-frenemy Perry the Platypus. 

Why Isabella was not scared

Rather unusually for a children's show, romance was a major component of "Phineas and Ferb." One of the most important relationships was between Phineas and his neighbor Isabella. While Phineas was usually too wrapped up in his inventions to think about romance, Isabella always had the biggest crush on him. 

This does not meet Isabella's feelings are one-sided. Phineas often demonstrates how deeply he cares about Isabella and is always willing to drop everything to help her out. One of the sweetest examples of this occurs during Season 1, in the episode "One Good Scare Ought to Do It!" When Isabella gets the hiccups, Phineas decides to take her on a personal tour of a haunted house they invented to cure her. 

As shocking as the attractions at the haunted house are, Isabella does not get scared enough to stop hiccupping. However, that might have been because of Phineas. He holds Isabella's hand throughout the ride, not knowing about Isabella's massive crush on him. Naturally, Isabella has no reason to feel afraid with Phineas by her side at all times. At the end of the episode, she even mentions to Candace that the best part of the whole thing was being showered with love and attention by Phineas for an entire day.

Why Doofenshmirtz cares so much about Vanessa

To the rest of the world, Dr. Doofenshmirtz likes to project the image of a fearsome and merciless tyrant who is always one step away from taking over the tri-state area. However, Doof's bravado goes out the window whenever he interacts with his teenage daughter Vanessa, who turns him into a puddle of goo and sentimentality.

When confronted by his spirited daughter, Doof's ambitions immediately go from world domination to making sure Vanessa is safe and happy at all times. Doof goes to great lengths to throw Vanessa a birthday party even though she insists she is too old for it, and he also spends all his free time hunting down an old doll that Vanessa used to love as a child. 

Doof's doting behavior towards Vanessa might seem like a bizarre outlier until you realize how terrible his childhood was. However, rather than passing the trauma of his own unhappy childhood onto his daughter, Doof instead takes the far more noble path of trying to make sure Vanessa receives all the love and care he was denied.

No need for permits

While "Phineas and Ferb" is largely a show about having a good time with your friends, the main attractions are the preposterous sci-fi contraptions that the brothers cook up in each episode.

One central running gag in the series is that Phineas and Ferb often take the help of adult contractors who supply them with the raw materials and industrial tools needed to build rollercoasters, monster trucks, or backyard beaches. The contractors often express mild surprise at how young Phineas and his brother are but never bother to ask whether the young inventors have the proper permission from local authorities to build their inventions.  

One reason for this indifference could be that Phineas and Ferb live in a tri-state area. The city they live in, Danville, lies across three state lines, which in turn means that the finer details regarding which state has jurisdiction over which legal matter must get extremely muddled. As such, one possible explanation is that the adult officials prefer to turn a blind eye toward Phineas and Ferb's shenanigans because they do not want to deal with the huge amount of red tape that would go into procuring the proper permits.

Why Buford became an ally

While Phineas and Ferb are the main characters of their show, several supporting characters have grown to assume almost equal importance and have become fan favorites in their own right. One such character is Buford, the resident bully who initially showed up in an antagonistic capacity.

At first, Buford acts like a lone wolf who is treated as an unholy terror by the gang, especially Baljeet. However, things change after the Season 1 episode "Voyage to the Bottom of Buford." In that episode, Buford reveals his pet fish, Biff, has disappeared. The hardened bully goes completely to pieces due, and Phineas and Ferb decide to help him locate Biff.

This is the first time that audiences see the sensitive side of Buford. The episode also reveals that Buford lives a very lonely existence, which is why he cares so much about his pet fish. The others seem to understand Buford's loneliness better in that episode, and after that Buford stops appearing as the villainous bully. Instead, he becomes one with the gang and develops a close friendship with Baljeet. 

Doofenshmirtz cannot handle true evil

All through "Phineas and Ferb," Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz has a singular goal — to rule over the tri-state area using his diabolical inventions. To that end, Doofenshmirtz prides himself on being a truly evil villain who rains terror on an unsuspecting populace, usually right up until he is thwarted by Perry the Platypus.

Unfortunately, Doofenshmirtz has a tough time matching his words to his deeds. The man is not very competent, and the few times he has worked alongside genuinely evil villains, Doof just could not get along with them. For instance, take the time Carl the intern turns evil after being hit by a ray. Doof even helps Perry and Major Monogram turn Carl good again because he is uncomfortable with the lengths Carl was willing to go to with his world-domination scheme. 

Similarly, when Doof meets his counterpart from another dimension who has conquered his reality, the original Doof goes to great lengths to stop his alternate-universe doppelganger from fulfilling his evil plans. It is clear that while Doofenshmirtz sees himself as an evil person, he is at heart a decent guy who was sadly led astray by his traumatic childhood but never actually turned fully evil. 

Perry acts as a therapist

On the face of it, the Perry vs. Doofenshmirtz subplots in "Phineas and Ferb" essentially act as pastiches of James Bond movies where a super-spy must thwart a villain's evil plan of world domination. In each episode, Perry is sent by his agency to stop whatever new scheme Doofenshmirtz is currently hatching in his lair.

However, the true subtext of Perry's missions is a lot more heartwarming than anything you could hope to see in a Bond film. Whenever Perry shows up at Doof's lair, the latter starts monologuing about a particular trauma from his past that led to the creation of his latest evil invention. The two fight, Perry defeats Doofenshmirtz, and they start the whole process all over again in the next episode. 

This kind of back-and-forth is a great way for Doof to unburden his past trauma in a safe space. In essence, his fights with Perry act as therapy sessions for Doof where he can work through the many, many emotional issues his past has inflicted on him. The sessions are proven to have a vastly beneficial effect on Doofenshmirtz since he eventually gives up being evil and becomes close friends with Perry the Platypus. 

Buford comes from an abusive home

While Buford starts as an antagonist in the series, he becomes a valued friend to the main group over time. Buford eventually proves himself to be a loyal and helpful ally with an unexpectedly sensitive side. However, as viewers get to know Buford better, it becomes clear that he probably comes from an abusive household.

In the Season 1 episode "Raging Bully," Buford and Phineas get into an altercation which ends with them squaring off in a thumb-wrestling contest. In the run-up to the fight, an announcer introduces Buford to the crowd with the line, "He is from a broken home, his hobby is breaking bones, Buford the bully!" The implication is clear. Buford has a troubled home life, and the violence that he inflicts on others is a reflection of the violence that Buford experiences at home. 

We get another disturbing glimpse of Buford's home life in the episode "Blackout!" While explaining why his voice is so raspy, Buford says, "You gotta spend hours screaming in a closet to get it like this. Hours!" Either that means Buford was put in a closet by his parents for hours at a time or that he voluntarily chose to go into the closet to scream for hours, and there were no adults around who cared enough to check on him. It seems that Buford has been secretly having almost as bad a childhood as the one Doofenshmirtz is always complaining about. 

Candace always knew

"Phineas and Ferb" often plays fast and loose with its own continuity since it is less focused on following an internal logic than on having fun. Due to this approach, you get an episode like "Wizard of Odd" in Season 2, which is basically a parody of "The Wizard of Oz" starring Candace as Dorothy. 

The main events of the episode all take place in Candace's head as she imagines going on an adventure similar to Dorothy's by following the yellow brick road through a magical world. Candace sees many of her acquaintances playing the parts of various characters from "The Wizard of Oz." Curiously, she also imagines a sub-plot involving Perry and Doofenshmirtz.

This does not make sense since Candace does not know about Perry's double life as a secret agent. Or does she? In a previous episode, "The Ballad of Badbeard," Candace discovers Perry's secret as he fights Doof but assumes what she sees is part of a hallucination. Despite dismissing the matter from her mind at the time, it seems that Candace continues to suspect that Perry is a secret agent, and those suspicions manifest themselves in the form of a sub-plot with Doofenshmirtz in "Wizard of Odd."

Doofenshmirtz considers Perry family

Doofenshmirtz and Perry the Platypus have one of the most complicated relationships in "Phineas and Ferb." The two start out as sworn enemies, but somewhere down the line, that enmity turns into a reluctant kinship before gradually morphing into full-blown BFF status. 

Why would Doofenshmirtz become close friends with someone who has foiled his plans repeatedly and beaten the tar out of him on countless occasions to boot? To answer that question, we have to go back to Doofenshmirtz's childhood trauma. Both his parents did not show up for his birth. He was forced to stand outside his house all night dressed as a garden gnome for years. His parents gave his brother Roger everything, while Doof was given nothing.

Doofenshmirtz had no friends growing up and was so entirely disowned by the human race that he was raised by ocelots. After suffering so much rejection in his life, the fact that Perry bothers to interact with him on a daily basis to foil his plans is probably the most attention Doof has ever received in his life. In its own twisted way, Perry's dynamic with Doof is the closest thing to a positive relationship in Doofenshmirtz's life.  

The all-knowing computer

As had become a trend with shows from the 2000s, "Phineas and Ferb" did not mind occasionally getting meta-textual or breaking the fourth wall in a tongue-in-cheek manner to comment on the show itself. Such occasions can be hard to pull off, but the sharp writing on the show helped land these jokes to allow them to impact the plot in a clever manner. 

Case in point, the Season 3 episode "Ask a Foolish Question." Phineas and his brother decide to build an all-knowing computer that can answer any question by firing off a scanning ray to gather every piece of information pertaining to a particular outcome. Candace asks the computer how she can finally bust her brothers successfully. The computer uses its scanning ray and soon has the answer, which involves a complicated series of events that include not just Phineas and Ferb, but also Perry and Doofenshmirtz. 

How did the computer know to include the completely unrelated actions of Perry and Doof battling each other several miles away in its grand plan? Because while scanning to answer Candace's question, the computer's ray hit a TV screen a few times. That may mean that the computer scanned the fourth wall to read the plotline of a typical "Phineas and Ferb" episode and thus knew that Doof and Perry had to be included in the final resolution.  

Candace got hypnotized

Not every clever joke in a "Phineas and Ferb" episode gets an entire subplot. Sometimes the most sophisticated bits are simple throwaway lines that you need to think about a couple of times to fully understand. These types of jokes make rewatching the series so rewarding, even if you already know the general plotlines. 

Take, for instance, the time Candace is messing around her room with her best friend Stacy in the Season 3 episode "A Real Boy." Stacy mentions a poster in Candace's room that explains the principles of hypnotism. However, Candace wonders why she would have ever brought the poster in the first place. 

The line likely implies that Candace herself was hypnotized into purchasing the poster. The seller might have made Candace forget that she had ever been hypnotized in the first place, with only the poster hanging in Candace's room serving as a reminder of the incident. 

Doofenshmirtz wants to fail

Ever since "The Dark Knight" was released, it became a hip to have villains who appear to fail in the middle of the story and get captured, only to reveal later that appearing to fail was part of their plan all along. Not so with Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, who constantly fails because he is just that incompetent.  

Or is he? We know Doofenshmirtz is every bit as clever as Phineas and Ferb when it comes to building new contraptions. We also know that Doof has the capability of becoming an evil tyrant, which is what his doppelgänger from a different universe did. So why does Doof keep failing at his evil plans? Perhaps it is because he wants to at a subconscious level as he is not truly evil, no matter how much he wants to believe he is. 

"You're basically a nice guy who's pretending to be evil," Vanessa tells Doofenshmirtz in the show's finale, adding, "It seems like it's all out of obligation to your backstories, not something that truly comes from your heart." The greatest proof that Doof is secretly a good guy is that he includes "self-destruct" buttons in most of his evil inventions, practically guaranteeing that his machines are destroyed before they can cause actual harm.

The cost of genius

"Phineas and Ferb" dealt with many themes regarding sibling relationships alongside the importance of family and friendships. One particular issue that resonates throughout the series but often flew under the radar is the true cost of genius, as exemplified by Phineas, Ferb, and Doofenshmirtz. 

All three characters are shown to have roughly equal levels of extremely high intelligence, and all three can basically create anything they want to make their lives easier. However, while Phineas and Ferb sail happily through the days filled with fun and laughter, Doofenshmirtz is forced to endure failure after failure and humiliating defeats no matter how many nefarious devices he creates. The lesson here is that being a genius is not enough to be happy if you do not have the emotional stability to go with it. 

Phineas and Ferb are surrounded by loving friends and family who share in their struggles and triumphs, which is what makes their lives as inventors so happy and rewarding. On the other hand, Doofenshmirtz stays locked inside the memories of his terrible childhood, unable to move on or find true happiness. As a result, Doof is doomed to a life of being a tortured genius. Fortunately, he learns to break the cycle at the end of the series by giving up being evil and letting love into his life in the form of his arch-enemy-turned-best-friend Perry the Platypus and beloved daughter Vanessa.