Thursday, August 25, 2011

Endless Endless Summer

Phineas and Ferb may not be the type to sell out, but unfortunately for them, as cartoon characters, they have no choice.
I've written about Phineas and Ferb so many times here that they're basically becoming my Kevin Bacon, but if you've seen the show, you know why it deserves to be written about at length. The unique characters and all-ages humor seem to be catching more and more attention, as the recent (and very well-done) made-for-TV movie featuring the characters garned over 10 million viewers (counting TiVo playbacks and what have you), making it the most-watched entertainment event of the year. Not surprisingly, the success has its rewards. Though Phineas and Ferb themselves do what they do for fun (and for the ladies), this is Hollywood we're talking about, and the fact that the show has quickly become Disney's answer to SpongeBob SquarePants both in terms of popularity and marketability has led to a big deal.

Today, it was announced that Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, the creators of the series, each signed an individual multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal with Disney Television Animation. The deals keep Phineas and Ferb alive for another season, as well as officially bring the duo on board the feature film adaptation currently in development at Walt Disney Studios as well as a new pilot and other future developments.

Both Phineas and Ferb- and Messrs. Povenmire and Marsh, the multi-talented writer/director/producer/song writer/voice artists who brought them to life- definitely deserve it. It definitely shows how far Dan and Swampy have come since 1993, when Phineas and Ferb was just a ridiculous idea they came up with while working at Rocko's Modern Life that most networks found too ridiculous until Disney put in into production half a decade ago. But the deal also shows some insight into Disney's future, and how they have been attempting to get back into the television animation game after Phineas and Ferb became an unexpected hit.

The fact that Phineas and Ferb itself has been renewed should surprise no one. Although until recently there were surprisingly a possibility the series would not be quickly renewed and production would halt temporarily,  the renewal is definitely a no-brainer for Disney, as the series still has some life in it, and Disney's definitely reaping the benefits. The old Phil Hartman line from The Simpsons about what will happen between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable comes to mind.

The idea of a Phineas and Ferb feature film is just that for now- an idea. But the fact that Disney has made Dan and Swampy's working on the film official shows that, for the time being, Disney is really serious about it- at least for now. Recently, on the Magical Definition podcast, Disney newshound and gossiper extraordinaire Jim Hill of the always-entertaining Jim Hill Media discussed Disney's plans for Phineas and Ferb as a business, talking in-depth about some of the ideas Disney is apparently kicking around for the feature adaptation, some of which sound pretty horrible. But, it's too soon to tell. There's a possibility the film may not even get made. All we can do is wait and see at this point.

To me, though, the most intriguing bit of the deal is the pilot option. I've seen conflicting reports as to whether the deal is for one pilot or multiple pilots, and there's always the possibility the pilot may not be picked up (though given how much Disney has invested in Dan and Swampy, I'd be surprised if it wasn't), but this is something that seems like it could go in multiple directions as well. Most of the news reports are hypothesizing that the pilot would most likely be a spinoff of Phineas and Ferb, which in itself isn't surprising. But doing so seems like it could be a challenge. The universe of Phineas and Ferb is so tightly knit with so many bizarre characters. For the most part, the title characters of the show aren't even the focus of the show as many cases, working as plot setup and giving the brunt of the story and gags to the diverse supporting cast. To take a piece out of this bizarre clockwork and try to build a new "machine" around it seems impossible. But there's one possibility- and it's one that's been already thought of.

Come on, girls! Don't you want to earn your "Funny Caption for an Internet Blog" patch?
In an article in the New York Times last year, reporter Brooks Barnes pointed out that an idea was being kicked around for a spinoff based around the Fireside Girls, a group of do-anything Girl Scouts who, much like Disney's own Junior Woodchucks of Carl Barks comic fame, have a guide which explains pretty much everything. Last month at a panel at the TimesCenter (of which I was in attendance), Dan and Swampy once again told Mr. Barnes the idea was still in their minds. At first, I was thinking that the fact that the Fireside Girls are the most underdeveloped characters in the entire series (save for their leader, Isabella, who is one of the major supporting characters) would make it difficult to pin a spinoff on them. However, during some discussion with one of my Twitter Secret Circle members, Freedom Fighter, on the matter, he pointed out that perhaps the spinoff's strength lies in their weakness. Because of the very fact that they have no character in the series, the spinoff would give a chance for the writers to create personalities for them. In addition, a series with a female lead would give a chance to create a franchise to appeal to young girls, much as Phineas and Ferb is geared towards young boys. (One wonders if young boys would be turned off by such a series, but then again, Disney's last animated hit before Phineas, Kim Possible, had a female lead and seemed to appeal to both genders, since it had memorable characters of both genders. I'm sure a male character would be added to the mix.)

There's also the possibility that, alongside the spinoff, or perhaps instead of it, or even sometime down the line if not now, Dan and Swampy may create something entirely new, giving them a new universe to play with once the time comes when they finally do run out of ideas for Phineas and Ferb. (It probably won't happen anytime soon, but it will someday- there are just so many inators a pathetic would-be evil scientist can build.) Dan and Swampy are clever enough that anything new they create will no doubt be entertaining, and given how much Disney has invested in them, it's possible they could be for them what Klasky-Csupo was and Butch Hartman is for Nickelodeon- their go-to creative source for animated hits.

But at this vantage point, it's all too soon to tell. Spinoff or new series? Feature film or not? These questions cannot be answered even by one of Phineas and Ferb's inventions- especially since it would probably disappear somehow before it got a chance to. All we can do is what Phineas and Ferb themselves do and take things one day at a time. But given what Dan, Swampy, and the creative team has given us so far, I look forward to what may come. Though Candace probably isn't.

PHINEAS AND FERB ©Disney. No ownership intended or implied. Photos from Phineas and Ferb Wiki.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Frog Goes Viral

What happens when you combine a company known for its cross-promotional skills, some of the most beloved puppets of all time, and a band known for their unique music videos? You get some pretty entertaining stuff.

As part of the promotion for the big revival of the Muppets, The Muppets, Disney has gone hog-wild (sorry, Miss Piggy). Taking a cue from the successful viral videos featuring the characters (including the smash-hit Bohemian Rhapsody cover), they've come up with some very clever marketing, including some amusing bait-and-switch trailers, and now a music video featuring a band whose videos have themselves gone viral multiple times, OK Go.

OK Go's version of the Muppet Show theme (from the new album of Muppet cover songs by alternative bands, The Green Album) is itself not that much to write about. But both OK Go and the Muppets are visual bands, combining music with visuals to create unique art. And the music video works. It's great to see all the Muppet gang we know and love as well as some of the more obscure characters (Sweetums! Marvin Suggs! Wayne and Wanda! Uncle Deadly!), and there are some clever references to OK Go's own videos. And you've gotta love the sight gag where the Muppets themselves are puppeteering the band. (I will, however, as others already have, take issue with OK Go's liberties taken on the song's lyrics. It's time to PUT ON music? Are the Muppets just gonna hang around listening to records all day instead of putting on a show?)

Also interesting to see is how Disney is using the other arms of its company to promote the film. A recent promo photo tied to the release of Captain America: The First Avenger featured Sam the Eagle in Cap's uniform, and there's also been a bit of a cross-promotion on the kid side, as Miss Piggy recently sat down for an interview with two guys I've written about at length here that Disney's pinned a lot of their hopes on, Phineas and Ferb.

Clearly, Disney has a lot pinned on the success of The Muppets as well, both for those who know and love the characters and the young ones who have no idea who they are. And hopefully it'll pay off. With Disney's success at making the Muppets go viral, there's no doubt.

"Viral? Where's the antidote? Do ho ho ho!"

Sheesh. Everyone's a critic.

THE MUPPETS ©Disney and/or Muppets Studio LLC. PHINEAS AND FERB ©Disney. MUPPET SHOW THEME (Pottle/Henson) ©Fuzzy Muppet Songs (ASCAP), Walt Disney Records. No ownership intended or implied.

If It Ain't Wrecked, Don't Fix-It

Remember the classic video game Fix-It Felix Jr?

Of course you don't. It doesn't exist. But this mock-up of the game- clearly inspired by Donkey Kong- was on display at the D23 Expo in Anaheim this weekend.

Fix-It Felix Jr. plays an important role in Wreck-It Ralph, a new film from Disney which will be released next fall from director Rich Moore (director of such classic Simpsons and Futurama episodes as "Marge vs. the Monorail", "Cape Feare", and the Emmy-winning "Roswell That Ends Well"). From what I've read, a number of attendees said this was the surprise of the expo, and I'll admit these pictures and the description of the film make me interested even more.

Wreck-It Ralph will apparently do for video games what Toy Story did for toys (or what Roger Rabbit did for cartoons), as the story features pastiches of well-known video game characters and genres interacting with each other. Wreck-It Ralph is the villain of Felix's game, but wants to prove that just because he's a bad guy doesn't mean he's a "bad guy." So he sneaks into other video games, and presumably, chaos ensues. The picture above shows Felix himself (as voiced by Jack McBrayer) and Venelope von Schveetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a cute character from a candy-coated racing game- though, as they say, looks can be deceiving. Jane Lynch is also on hand as the star of a Halo-style space combat game.

This looks like a ton of fun, and it's definitely a film that wasn't on my radar before but now is.

WRECK-IT RALPH ©Disney. Felix and Venelope photo by Todd Wawrychuk/Disney D23. "I'm gonna wreck it photo" by Entertainment Weekly. All other photos from No ownership intended or implied.

Originally posted on my shiny* new Tumblr, Robot and Peanut. (*May not be actually shiny.)