Let’s begin with an open secret: Candance (Ashley Tisdale) has always been the protagonist of Phineas and Ferb. Throughout the show’s four-season run, it was Candace, not her boy-genius brothers, who drove the plot. While Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (David Errigo Jr taking over from Thomas Sangster) goofed around concocting increasingly absurd ways to spend their one-hundred-and-four days of summer vacation, Candace became obsessed with exposing their antics to their comically unaware mother (Caroline Rhae). Or as she puts it: busting them.
In each episode, Phineas and Ferb would build fabulous contraptions ranging from roller coasters to time machines while Candace strived to bust them, often landing her in the middle of their antics. And in every episode, before their mother could see it, the evidence would, through some unexpected and hilarious twist, vanish. Like Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd before her, Candace is what kept audiences coming back — because maybe this time she’d finally succeed.
With a goal that Sisyphean, it would be easy to become disheartened, and indeed, that is how Candance Against the Universe finds its titular character. After ‘Such a Beautiful Day’, the opening musical number in which Candace swears she’s not going to try and bust Phineas and Ferb, the sight of a new invention sends her spiraling. In a conversation with Vanessa (Olivia Olson), daughter of the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz (co-creator Dan Povenmire), Candace ponders why she bothers doing anything. Her brothers are prodigies, and she’s just a regular teenage girl. Who is she without her quest to bust her brothers? Before Candace can have a breakthrough, she and Vanessa are abducted by aliens. Now Phineas and Ferb, along with their regular cast of supporting characters, must join forces with Dr. Doofenshmirtz (and an undercover Perry the Platypus) to travel across the galaxy and rescue them.
Sibling tension has always been the driving conflict of Phineas and Ferb. Until now, that tension has been one-sided: Candace feeling the need to one-up Phineas and Ferb while they remain too focused on having fun to notice that’s she’s becoming manic. In Candace Against the Universe Phineas and Ferb are finally confronted with the realization that their summer of fun has left their sister feeling inadequate. Their mission to save Candace, then, doubles as a mission to begin reconciling the misunderstanding, and to show her just how special they think she is.
In terms of emotion, that’s about all Candace Against the Universe has to offer; like the series, the film is pretty light on anything resembling interiority. The show never bothered with character arcs, and their inclusion here is entirely functional: providing a narrative spine to support the 88 minutes of runtime. The plot is generic, and at times feels like a remix of old episodes — the gang has been to space on multiple occasions, Candace has been kidnapped by aliens before, and Candace and Vanessa’s team-ups are a dime a dozen.
Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh returned to tried and true material so they could spend the majority of their writing working on what they do best: jokes. As The Simpsons alumni, their work on Phineas and Ferb has always possessed traces of that same dry wit, but never more so here. Running gags are accounted for, but it’s the extended bits, enabled by the feature-length running time, that keep Candace Against the Universe fresh. Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s Chicken Replacinator is particularly inspired. It does exactly what it says on the tin: swapping any object caught in its ray with the nearest chicken. And the Chicken Replacinator is only the tip of the STEM-adjacent-humor iceberg. Candace Against the Universe is what the series was always on the verge of being: kid-friendly Rick and Morty with a less insufferable fanbase.
What the collected parts of Candace Against the Universe amount to is a moot point. The film isn’t trying to push the Phineas and Ferb canon in any new ground-breaking direction. Refocusing the spotlight onto Candace is a vehicle, like everything else in the movie, to deliver more of what fans love. In that way, Candace Against the Universe is similar to Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus; both are feature-length sequels to a beloved TV series, made with an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude. The Phineas and Ferb formula is so perfect that even without bold choices, Candace Against the Universe is less superfluous than most sequels. Was it necessary that this film be made? Not at all. Is it a delightful watch nonetheless? Absolutely.