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"Phineas and Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas": A Decent Stocking Stuffer

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About a year ago I reviewed Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation (it having been Christmas then, you see?). As is the trend with Christmas specials/movies, a year later we get a home video release in the form of A Very Perry Christmas.

For those unfamiliar, Phineas and Ferb is a Disney animated series which focuses on the title characters, who are young stepbrothers that set out to make each day count by doing the impossible on a daily basis with amazing but well-intentioned schemes. Their older sister Candace feels a duty to try and ‘bust’ them to their mother but always fails. Unknown to all three, family pet Perry the Platypus is a secret agent who daily battles the neurotically evil Dr Heinz Doofenshmirtz. The show has a formula but one it’s quite aware of and willing to play around with. Add in some sharp wit and toe-tapping songs and you have yourself a winner.

This DVD release presents the show’s first Christmas special, along with a collection of regular episodes and some extras. The special itself is likely why most would buy the title and it generally holds up. It’s well made but I do have to be honest and question if it’ll become one of the great Christmas outings that folks rewatch each year. But if you’re buying it because you are a fan of Phineas and Ferb, I’d say you’re more than getting your money’s worth in this episode.

The first extra episode is ‘Interview With a Platypus’, which like the others was chosen due to the loose Perry theme of this DVD. Wishing to translate their pet’s trademark chattering, Phineas and Ferb build a machine to do exactly that. In typical style for the boys, however, the machine turns out to be capable of translating all animal chatter into English. It’s an enjoyable episode but not one of the show’s best.

The next episode, ‘Oh, There You Arre, Perry’, is more engaging. After Doofenshmirtz is reclassified as a minor threat, Perry is rehomed with another family to deal with a villain the agency classes as more dangerous. Doofenshmirtz learns of this fact and seeks to reclaim his placement, whilst an oblivious Phineas and Ferb search the city for their lost pet. It’s a well structured episode, with a mix of laughter and sadness running strongly between the two plots.

‘Chez Platypus’ is another episode where the Perry and Doofenshmirtz angle saves the day. Phineas and Ferb create a trendy cuisine restaurant named after their duck billed buddy. Meanwhile, Doofenshmirtz is preparing to eliminate love forever should his next blind date fail. The Doofenshmirtz character always tends to aim more for the older audience and that is on fine show here. Likewise, Perry’s importance to both plots in this episode leads to an amusing sequence of having to keep switching from his brainless pet look and his secret agent visage.

Doofenshmirtz love troubles continue into ‘Perry Lays An Egg’. When the boys mistake a bird egg for one layed by Perry, they set about using science to hatch it. This horrifies Candace, whose maternal instincts come to the fore. Meanwhile, Perry fuses to foil Doofenshmirtz for what he classes as a petty revenge plot. The episode is classed as something of a classic by fans of the show and helps illustrate just how it’s built up a loyal audience.

The final ‘bonus’ episode is the slightly more recent ‘Doof Side of the Moon’. Seeking to resolve Danville’s tourism issues, the boys erect a massive skyscraper to draw interest. At the same time Doofenshmirtz launches a plot to lock the moon permanently on its darkside, fearing the rays of a full moon risk making people more evil than himself. This is a strong episode, partly because it benefits from the show’s wider cast which has been steadily developed. A key subplot involves Candace teaming up with the smitten older brother of a Phineas and Ferb fanboy whilst the Perry and Doofenshmirtz scenes have strong writing, including some throw away gags which return in surprising ways.

The second episode is the slightly more recent ‘Doof Side of the Moon’. Seeking to resolve Danville’s tourism issues, the boys erect a massive skyscraper to draw interest. At the same time Doofenshmirtz launches a plot to lock the moon permanently on its darkside, fearing the rays of a full moon risk making people more evil than himself. This is a strong episode, partly because it benefits from the show’s wider cast which has been steadily developed. A key subplot involves Candace teaming up with the smitten older brother of a Phineas and Ferb fanboy whilst the Perry and Doofenshmirtz scenes have strong writing, including some throw away gags which return in surprising ways.

The first of the discs extras, ‘Keep On Buildin’ ‘, focuses on the song writing process by looking at the creation of the featured song for ‘Doof Side of the Moon’. It’s surprisingly informative and entertaining, featuring footage and talking heads of creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh in addition to two of their song writing associates. The piece covers the team’s respective musical backgrounds in addition to Povenmire and Marsh’s wish to ensure the show talks to kids and not down to them.

The second extra, “A Virtual Fireplace,” is slightly less interesting. It is just under half an hour of looped animation of a brick fireplace crackling away while music-only versions of famous Christmas tracks play in the background. Every so often Phineas, Candace, Perry, Dr Doofenshmirtz or Major Monogram will appear to deliver some generic Christmas themed dialogue. Most of this is newly recorded but some of it is sourced from the main feature. I’m not really a fan of this kind of thing. It’d make perfect sense as a computer screensaver but seems really wasteful to leave a DVD and TV running playing this. At best I could understand using it for background ambience for a kids’ Christmas party.

The rest of the bonus features aren’t too substantial, but they are a lot of fun. “Dr. D’s Xmas Jukebox-Inator” lets you jump straight to the songs in the special, while “Christmas Perry-Oki” turns on a karaoke subtitle track for the songs throughout the special. “Letters to Santa” features Santa Claus reading different cast members’ letters. There are also a small ton of hidden Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout the main menu, most of which just play very short clips, but one of which leads to a six-minute video chronicling an office prank as only the crew of this particular show could overdo it. Other than that, it’s nice that the shows are all presented in anamorphic widescreen, rather than the cropped pan-and-scan of earlier Phineas and Ferb DVDs.

A Very Perry Christmas does what it sets out to do, being a way to get the Christmas special on DVD at an affordable price. It’s the kind of thing parents or relatives would be safe buying as a present for kids who are fans of the show but in general I find it lacking. There has been a strong demand for Disney to release full season sets of the show, a motion the original creators have vocally supported too. Limited releases like this don’t really cut it and seem particularly odd given Disney have said they view the show as a key property. The only reason I can see to not release them is to force people to rely on the airings shown on the various Disney television networks. This DVD works well as a Christmas stocking stuffer, but it would be a good New Year’s resolution to get started on some actual full sets.

Ed Liu contributed to this review.

Update (10/18): An editing error resulted in large swaths of the final version of Grant White’s review going unpublished. The missing paragraphs have now been inserted. We’ll blame the problems on, uh … Oh, heck. CURSE YOU, PERRY THE PLATYPUS!