Animated stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb, of the Disney Channel series "Phineas and Ferb," go feature-length Friday with "Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension." It is suitable for (and recommended to) children of all ages — though much of it is meant specifically for children of a certain age, old enough to appreciate jokes that reference Georgia O'Keeffe, "The Jeffersons," Wittgenstein, Sartre and the "Fit as a Fiddle" number from "Singin' in the Rain."
Like the series it polishes and amplifies, the movie follows the pair (Vincent Martella as Phineas, Thomas Sangster as Ferb) as they fill the long days of an endless summer with the creation of large, scientifically sophisticated and often dangerous contraptions, to the perpetual annoyance of older sister Candace (Ashley Tisdale), who tries and reliably fails to "bust" them to mom. Meanwhile, their pet platypus, Perry, sneaks off to work secretly as a secret agent, his exclusive enemy one Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Dan Povenmire, who co-created the series with Jeff "Swampy" Marsh), an inept mad scientist attempting to achieve domination over "the tri-state area."
In the movie, which concerns a dystopian parallel world where the characters face their mirror images, the brothers learn for the first time just what Perry is up to when he disappears. The title is a joke, of course, the second dimension being where all cartoon characters live. They don't become "three-dimensional" here, in the usual sense of computer-generated roundness — a computer would not know what to do with Phineas' triangular head — but they do get some nice shading, and the whole movie is vibrant and detailed and dynamically staged. A climactic battle between an army of evil robots and the brothers' motley corps of automatons is as colorfully surreal an encounter as anything since the Blue Meanies were chased out of Pepperland. There is also a hint of emotional depth, regarding the love between animals and the people who live with them.
Like other bright things to which children are drawn without fully comprehending them, much of "Phineas and Ferb," which is as culturally refractive in its way as "30 Rock," must read as gibberish. But the popularity of the show suggests the small fry have no problem with this arrangement. Indeed, my experience as a child and a friend to children says that they would prefer to be treated as knowing more than they do than to be talked down to.
From the adult perspective, these lines are funny to me even out of context, and give a good sense of the creators' voice: "We're turning Perry's involuntary reflex into a sporting event," "This holographic projection has become mesmerized by his video image," "If you keep up the good work, you can make unpaid intern in no time," "I used to be in the resistance, but I got so good at it I started resisting them," and "Goodbye childhood folly, hello carefree undemanding adult life." That last one may take the kids some time to get, but they will, they will.