Mo-om! Phineas and Ferb are Making A Billion Dollar Franchise!
Friday, July 2, 2010
I've been a tad critical of the Disney marketing machine here and there, but I predict that the House of Mouse's recent decision to angle for a major franchise featuring a triangle and a rectangle will shape up beautifully for the Disney brand.
The three- and four-sided shapes represent the cranial designs of the title characters of The Disney Channel's breakthrough animated series, Phineas and Ferb. It's currently the number-one animated series among kids six to 11, but teens, college students and adults also have embraced the adorable and hysterical stepbrothers. Banking on mass pop culture appeal, Disney hopes to wring the life out of rival Nickelodeon's SpongeBob Squarepants and turn Phineas and Ferb into a billion-dollar franchise.
During the next month alone, the boys will appear in merchandising efforts at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Target. Upcoming plans include a monthly magazine and licensing with Kraft mac and cheese. Not bad for two dudes just trying to ward off boredom during summer vacation. And they're just the dudes to make this work for Disney. Here's why:
Geeks are Chic
The premise of each episode is the same: Stepbrothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher are in the midst of 104 days of summer vacation and conjure various plans and inventions to stay busy. What? They're not just sitting on the couch, grunting for more Fritos between Playstation sessions, texting and naps? Nosirree. These chaps are ingenious and productive, doing everything from reviving a caveman from a glacier (who unfortunately gets loose at a costume party) to holding a backyard rodeo with robotic bulls to riding around in a teeny submarine inside their sister's bloodstream a la Fantastic Voyage. From Googleplex-worshiping Geek Squads to the popular Smarter Planet and Healthymagination brand campaigns, our culture is confirming that IQ is cool. The boys may not seize up at the prospect of possessing the DNA of Leonard Nimoy, but they're culturally relevant by showing viewers that smart kids have serious fun.
It's Damn Funny
Post-princess Disney has excelled at evolving "family entertainment" to mean more than just "kid-friendly." Their best work entertains adults as well as kids, and the writers throw in enough blank stares, puns and pop culture references to make the show something adults actually enjoy watching with their kids. A sampling of episode titles includes "Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror," "Comet Kermilian" and, my personal favorite, "Jerk de Soleil." It's no surprise that co-creator Dan Povenmire worked on Family Guy in the past. Have I mentioned the boys have a pet platypus named Perry who works as a secret agent to destroy the evil villain Heinz Doofenshmirtz? And Perry wears a hat. Any animal in headwear is funny.
The Musical Numbers are Cool
In addition to the title sequence, performed by Bowling for Soup, each 30 minute episode also features an original song that's as clever as the rest of the writing. It could be a musical ode to the unsung qualities of the mighty aglet (yes, I'm serious) or "Squirrels in My Pants" (which the NBA used recently for playoff promos), or this lamentation of a confection-free digestive tract. In all of her 88 episodes, Hannah Montana never sang anything that listenable.
Best of all, though, the excellence of Phineas and Ferb celebrates the return of Disney to what it does best: animation. In recent years, The Disney Channel has been overrun by shows featuring "real" teenybop characters, including Miley Cyrus, Zack and Cody, Demi Lovato, and Joe, Nick and That Other Jonas Brother Whose Name I Can't Think of Because He Got Married and Now Doesn't Get Screen Time Because He Killed The Dreams of Millions of Viewers. Sure, those shows all made their stars and Disney ridiculously wealthy. But hats off to Disney for giving the cartoons a chance again.