Dan Povenmire, the man who co-created the TV series Phineas and Ferb alongside Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, had a lot of experience working on popular cartoons before the success of his Disney Channel hit.
Born in San Diego, California in 1963 and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Povenmire was a cartoonist (he sited Chuck Jones and Hayao Miyazaki as influences) who has been drawing since the age of two and had his work displayed in art shows since the age of ten, meaning he was both a child prodigy and a child celebrity.
When he was an adult he attended the University of South Alabama but he transferred to the University of Southern California (USC) to pursue a film career closer to Hollywood. He even had one of his earliest cartoon-based successes at USC when he got the comic strip he created at the University of Alabama Life Is a Fish published at the USC student newspaper The Daily Trojan. The cartoon gained popularity around the campus and the discipline he learned from producing cartoons on a regular schedule would come in handy in his animation career.
Povenmire left USC without graduating to pursue his art career, his first professional animation job being a sequence from the 1990 Tommy Chong film Far Out Man. His true calling however was television, where he storyboarded on animated shows in the nineties, the most popular being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons.
On The Simpsons Povenmire worked as a layout and storyboard artist. Fellow layout artist Jeff “Swampy” Marsh also worked on The Simpsons at this time and the two office neighbors and future Phineas and Ferb creators became friends due to their similar tastes and sense of humor.
Povenmire had a lot of respect from his Simpsons co-workers based on his previous work in the industry but when he went to work on the Nickelodeon series Rocko’s Modern Life while he was on break from The Simpsons, he enjoyed the creative freedom at the cable television network better.
On Rocko’s Modern Life, Povenmire was a storyboarder, writer, director and songwriter, later doing similar work on the Nickelodeon shows Hey Arnold!, CatDog and SpongeBob SquarePants.
I first began appreciating Dan Povenmire’s work when I watched Family Guy, for which he was a storyboarder and director.
Povenmire praised Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s management style because MacFarlane completely trusted him to have fun and be creative with the ideas he contributed to the show.
While at Family Guy, Povenmire finally got his own animated series on the air.
Povenmire first conceived of the TV series Phineas and Ferb with Marsh back in the nineties while they were both working as writers on Rocko’s Modern Life. Even after Marsh moved to England, Povenmire spent around 15 years pitching the show to networks and getting rejected. He persevered because he had faith that it was the kind of show he would have watched as a child.
Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network all rejected it but Disney kept the proposal packet and finally gave Povenmire the chance to make the show for Disney Channel under the condition that he produce an 11-minute pilot. Marsh flew back to the United States upon Povenmire’s request and helped make the pilot. Disney liked it and greenlit the series for 26 episodes, prompting Povenmire to quit Family Guy to develop it full time.
Phineas and Ferb revolves around two stepbrothers named Phineas Flynn (Vincent Martella) and Ferb Fletcher (Thomas Sangster) who spend their summer in the fictional town of Danville trying to have fun in elaborate and often dangerous ways that involve rollercoasters, robots, monsters, hypnosis, time travel, etc., while their older sister Candace (Ashley Tisdale) tries and fails to bust them by tattling to their mom (Caroline Rhea) only for any evidence of the trouble to disappear by the time their mom gets home.
Meanwhile, the side-plot often involves Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus Perry who secretly lives a double life as a secret agent called Agent P who works for the espionage organization O.W.C.A. (Organization Without a Cool Acronym) to engage in battle with an evil but bumbling scientist named Dr. Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Dan Povenmire) who always attempts to make trouble with his oddball inventions.
The concept was inspired by Povenmire and Marsh’s similar childhood summers being creative in the outdoors. The humor has similarities to previous shows Povenmire worked on like Rocko’s Modern Life and Family Guy. Its irreverent sense of humor sometimes even makes the show come off like Family Guy for kids.
The character of Phineas was designed accidentally when Povenmire was doodling a triangle-shaped human in a restaurant one day and liked the drawing he made so much that he kept it. The geometrical art style was applied to every character in the show and it was influenced by Tex Avery’s cartoons from the fifties (which were in turn influenced by the animated films of UPA).
The series premiered on Disney Channel in 2007 and was a huge hit that kids and adults both enjoyed. It ran for four seasons from 2007 to 2015. Two feature films based on the series that were just as entertaining were also released: Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension premiered on Disney Channel in 2011, and Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe premiered on the streaming service Disney+ in 2020.
Povenmire and Marsh would also collaborate on the Disney series Milo Murphy’s Law in 2016 that follows the optimistic but unlucky Milo Murphy (“Weird Al” Yankovic) who is a descendant of Edward A. Murphy, Jr. the creator of Murphy’s Law, the adage that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
The series takes place in the same universe as Phineas and Ferb. Other characters include Milo’s best friend Melissa Chase (Sabrina Carpenter), new kid on the block and straight man Zack Underwood (Mekai Curtis) and Dr. Doofenshmirtz of Phineas and Ferb fame (once again voiced by Povenmire) who is no longer a villain and now works for O.W.C.A.
Not as popular as Phineas and Ferb but just as funny and well-written, the show is currently in limbo but it is available on Disney+ and if it gets enough viewers there, Disney may revive it for another season. If you subscribe to the streaming service I suggest you check it out.
Rare is the artist who knows how to create entertainment that anyone of any age can enjoy but Dan Povenmire has been doing it for years even working on shows aimed at kids and shows aimed at adults at the same time. He is still at his creative peak so I am looking forward to his work in the future.