Disney has quite the large collection of beloved properties under one roof, so it was only a matter of time before kids were treated to an animated team-up of favorite characters from different worlds. That’s the big appeal of the Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, the first animated crossover for Marvel and Disney, which airs this Friday on Disney Channel.
Phineas and Ferb creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh grew up as fans of Marvel superheroes (Marsh learned how to draw by tracing images of Iron Man), so the one-hour TV special was an exciting endeavor for the two of them. Povenmire recalled teachers telling him, “You can’t make a living drawing superheroes!” Turns out they were wrong about that.
The special teams up enterprising step-brothers Phineas and Ferb with Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Spider-Man when the superheroes lose their powers after being zapped with Dr. Doofenschmirtz’s newest power-draining “inator.” The Phineas and Ferb bad guy teams up with Marvel villains Red Skull, Whiplash, Venom, and MODOK, even leading them in a musical number around Danville.
Key to making the crossover work was finding a way to believably and entertainingly mesh together the Marvel universe and Phineas and Ferb world. A similar “bigger-than-life” quality to both properties helped, Povenmire told EW. “Phineas and Ferb is like the imagination of a nine-year-old boy if it was unhampered by reality. And Marvel is sort of the product of [asking,] ‘What if we were unhampered by the reality humans live with all the time?’ There’s a lot in common there.”
Marsh also noted, “Even evil villains and Doofenschmirtz — there’s a lot of his inators that are similar to things the evil [Marvel] villains would come up with. His application is just much more petty and small-minded.”
But it’s the clashing of these two worlds and how they’re different that produces a lot of the comedy of the special that should entertain both young and young at heart viewers. For example, the Marvel superheroes are puzzled over the shape of Phineas’ head and how a platypus can be such a threat to an evil villain, while Doofenschmirtz fails to understand Red Skull’s accent or why he’s so red.
For the actors who voiced Marvel characters, bringing these worlds together meant approaching their performance much as they would for the Disney XD show Avengers Assemble, except “a little faster paced, a little higher energy, but staying true to the characters,” explained Travis Willingham, who voices Thor.
Staying true to Marvel characters was also an important task for Marsh and Povenmire, who wrote the story for the special. A scene when the superheroes’ powers are returned to them but not to the correct heroes — Iron Man has Thor’s powers,Thor has Spider-Man’s powers, and so on — especially launched some lengthy discussions about how to keep that moment true to Marvel.
“You have no idea how much debate went into how that would work and which ones should get which powers,” Marsh said.
When Povenmire and Marsh pitched the power-switching scene to Marvel execs, they detailed a moment where Iron Man uses Thor’s hammer.
“We were told, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t do that,’ and we had this whole conversation about what we could and couldn’t do and realized we have to re-board an entire section,” Povenmire recalled. “We came out of that meeting and went, ‘We should just put that conversation in the show.’ [Dialog] between Thor and Iron Man [about being worthy to use the hammer] is almost verbatim for our conversation for the execs at Marvel.”
Cort Lane, vice president of development and production at Marvel Television, said it was especially important “that the Marvel characters stayed heroic.” And indeed they do. But even while Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man remain heroic and noble in Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, there’s plenty of opportunity for Phineas and Ferb — and even Candice — to help save the day.
Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel airs on Disney Channel on Friday, Aug. 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.