In anticipation of the all-new Phineas and Ferb: Animal Agents—releasing to DVD on February 26, 2013—I had the opportunity to interview the show’s creators and co-executive producers, Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh.
Since it was a phone interview, they began by identifying themselves, so I would know who was speaking when. I told them if they would just speak in character, I’d have no trouble…so they greeted me as Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz and Major Frances Mongram! That set the tone for the very friendly conversation that follows.
Here’s what the guys had to say about the show in general, the new production, and what’s in the works.
JW: Good afternoon! Thanks for speaking with me today! My kids and my husband and I are all huge Phineas and Ferb fans, and it’s great to have this chance to talk to you. I have read that it took you guys 16 years of pitching the show to various producers before Disney picked it up? Is that so?
P&M: Yeah, it was about 13 years before someone finally took a look at it, and then another couple years of negotiating and working out the details before it actually aired, so yeah, about 15 or 16 years total—1993 to 2008.
JW: How does the current show differ from your original concept? How has the show evolved over the years?
P&M: Our original concept did not take place just during summer vacation. Disney brought that up. We liked it, because we didn’t want to draw all those school desks, so it worked out well and saved us countless animation hours. Also, the character of Isabella was not in the original.
JW: I have to ask, why a platypus? Do they have inherent secret agent qualities?
P&M: Actually yes, sort of! The platypus is like a mishmash of other animals. It’s like they are almost in disguise already. Is it a duck disguised as a beaver or a beaver disguised as a duck?
With the creation of Perry, we have come into what the Shrek creators call “mental real estate.” Before Shrek, people didn’t really have an image in mind to connect to the word “ogre.” But since the success of those films, what comes to mind when you hear that term? The character Shrek! We have kind of achieved the same with Perry. Now when you hear the word “platypus” mentioned, you think of Perry or Agent P, right?
And, we also liked the platypus because no one else had used one before.
JW: You guys each provide voiceovers to key characters (Povenmire: Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Marsh: Major Monogram), but you aren’t involved in much of the script writing anymore, are you?
P&M: We are co-executive producers. Dan is involved in the drawing and animation and the writers’ room; Swampy directs episodes and records the voicing.
JW: Do people recognize you on the street, or does working behind-the-scenes help you lead a “normal” life?
P&M: We blend in pretty well. We can choose to be recognized. Of course, people at things like Comic Con kind of search us out, and now kids recognize us sometimes because of the caveman episode in which we appear in live action. (Dan said he’s been recognized twice recently at the mall.) The weirdest one, though, was when a guy approached us at Bowling for Soup concert in a dark L.A. night club and came up to me and asked if I was Swampy!
JW: Do you write or have you written any of the original songs?
P&M: Yes! We’ve written over 200 original songs, including the theme song.
JW: I am always on the lookout for ways to apply Disney entertainment to homeschool activities. Phineas and Ferb provide lots of options—like un-domesticating squirrels, hosting robot rodeos, and shrinking submarines (all featured on the upcoming DVD)! Of course, many of their projects need to be scaled way down before we could attempt them. Did you intend for the show to be at all educational (if not subliminally)?
P&M: Well, we intended it not to be overtly educational. We wanted it to be about fun and not about teaching lessons. We wanted the characters to be smart and learn in subtle way.
(JW: Just like I say at Magical Mouse Schoolhouse, “Learn while you play!”)
JW: Even Dr. Doof’s “inators” are pretty creative! Who comes up with those crazy projects anyway?
P&M: Writers kind of brainstorm them. They have a whole wall of ideas and just pull ones for Doof/Perry that will intersect well with what Phineas and Ferb/Candace are doing (and vice versa).
JW: Later this month, Disney is releasing Phineas and Ferb: Animal Agents to DVD. Congratulations, by the way! The episodes featured in the new DVD all focus on the secret-agent-pets side story. It’s fun when the animals collaborate, like in “Where’s Perry? Part 2,” where Perry trains some new recruits to help him tackle evil. Have they all previously aired, or are there any new ones?
P&M: No new. All have aired. We get so much fan mail and excitement over the minor characters who get sparse screen time—the other O.W.C.A. agents—that we wanted give the fans a whole collection of episodes that feature them.
JW: I have to admit, as a parent, when the show first debuted I was skeptical. There are so many shows targeted to kids that portray parents and other adults as complete idiots, but your show doesn’t do that—and I appreciate that! Thank you! Although the parents are a bit out-of-the-know. But what I love about Phineas and Ferb is the clever writing. Honestly, there are times when I’m home alone and I don’t choose an adult show to watch; I choose Phineas and Ferb—and I literally laugh out loud.
P&M: We didn’t feel like anyone would pick up on that! (They thanked me!) We didn’t want any character to be a jerk or idiot. The kids respect their parents. The boys don’t want to do anything Mom wouldn’t like. In fact, they often want Candace to show Mom! They just don’t realize what they’re doing could get them in trouble. We wanted to make a show without anyone being genuinely mean to each other.
JW: So what other Phineas and Ferb things are in the works? What’s coming up?
P&M: A Disney/Marvel Phineas & Ferb crossover episode is currently in production, and is turning out very good! We’re very pleased, and early reviewers seem to like it too! (Didn’t say exactly when, maybe this summer or later this year?)
Another episode like the “Isabella and the Temple of Sap” episode (included on the new DVD) is coming up soon that’s actually two 11-minute, back-to-back stories. The first one will look at what Phineas and Ferb are doing, and the second part will follow Isabella as she does whatever Phineas has asked her to do.
There’s also an episode like that Isabella one that follows minor character “Paul the delivery man” (voiced by actor Christian Slater) through his day and only glimpses what the major characters are up to.
JW: Well, I have to ask before we close, Jeff, where does the nickname “Swampy” come from? Just kinda goes with the last name, or is there a story behind it?
P&M: It is because of my last name. I was living in England many years ago, and friends I worked with started calling me either Boggy or Swampy Marsh just to joke around. I told them Swampy was bad enough, and it just stuck.
And just like that, our time was up! But I was allowed to listen in to the remaining interviews, and I was able to note some more information that fans want to know:
- How old are Phineas and Ferb? I didn’t get a chance to ask, but in answering someone else’s question, Dan Povenmire said it was like trying to think like a 9-year-old boy, so I’m assuming they’re supposed to be about 9 or 10.
- What is your favorite episode? Dan: “Summer Belongs to You”; Swampy “Rollercoaster” and “We’re Getting the Band Back Together” (because it was the first episode where Candace and Phineas work together)
- Aren’t you too young to be making a hit TV show? Actually, we’re a little old to be doing this (laughing!).
- What are your favorite recurring gags? Giant floating baby head, farmers wife (things fall from the sky), Dr. Doof is unable to recognize Perry without his hat
- What’s your key to success? Just trying to make each other laugh—and it helps we have an immature sense of humor! We have never taken out a joke because it was too smart for kids or too dumb for adults.
I enjoyed talking to these guys almost as much as I enjoy watching the hit TV show they say they’re too old to be producing! You wouldn’t believe how quickly 15 minutes flies by when you’re having fun with new friends. Did we answer your questions? If not, leave them in the comments below and we’ll work on getting answers!
Jodi Whisenhunt is the author of MAGICAL MOUSE SCHOOLHOUSE: Learn While You Play at Walt Disney World Resort, and operates a blog by the same title. Her book is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. (Kindle and Nook versions also available.) Come, think outside the textbook and stretch the walls of your home classroom with Walt Disney entertainment!