Free-Range Phineas and Ferb

Let's Free-Range!

Let’s Free-Range!

Readers — This look at cartoon culture comes to us from Dressler Parsons, a content writer at the Arizona-based SAT prep outfit,  Student-Tutor. I haven’t seen this cartoon but it does sound great! – L

Phineas & Ferb & Fighting the Urge to Helicopter, by Dressler Parsons

It seems like the cartoons and kids’ shows that seep into society shoot down Free-Range Parenting.  I mean, stereotypically, unsupervised  kids run wild and wreak havoc. As far parents, if they’re even introduced, they’re usually bumbling, incompetent dodos.

But a show has popped up that challenges the status quo–“Phineas and Ferb,” a Disney Channel cartoon.

Quick and clever, this show could start to change the way we think about the “dangers” of letting kids loose and the equally misguided belief that Free-Range Parenting is the same as neglect.

“I Know What We’re Gonna Do Today”—A Cartoonish Case for Free Range Parenting

Okay, okay.  Advice from a cartoon?  Aren’t these the same shows where people/animals/sponges frequently (read: always) survive explosions or falls from skyscrapers?

Hush.  Phineas and  Ferb are worth a look because they celebrate innovation, imagination and independence. How?

1) For once, the parents aren’t stupid or neglectful.

The show covers Phineas and Ferb’s (ridiculously long!) 104-day summer vacation, wherein their parents frequently leave them to their own devices—the “have fun, be safe” implied. And here’s a novelty—they’re smart, level-headed, and have first names.

Lawrence (the dad) leaves daily for his antique-dealing job, and Linda (the mom) often expands her world via cooking classes, or playing keyboard with her free-form jazz band.

Whenever the parents return, Linda makes snacks for the boys and their friends. Which, okay, is a little 1950’s-esque, but that’s for another conversation.  The point is that even though she’s Free-Range, she cares. It’s not either/or!

2) Other adults in the show treat Phineas and Ferb like capable human beings.

Here’s the format:  Phineas and Ferb wake up.  Something inspires them.  Phineas turns to the oft-mute Ferb.  He says, “Ferb, I know what we’re gonna do today.”

Cue the building of crazy contraptions—or accomplishing seemingly impossible feats, like brilliantly marketing a new toy that does “nothing” (and encourages creativity).

And they invariably come in contact with adults who say things like, “Aren’t you a little young to be building the world’s largest funhouse?”

Phineas answers, “Yes.  Yes I am.”

That’s that.  They’re left to do their thing, and they succeed wildly.  (“That’s because it’s a cartoon!”  Shh.)

3) In fact, the only person who’s unnerved by their freedom is their high-strung older sister Candace.

And the show rails against her reaction.

In the episode “Phineas and Ferb Get Busted!”, Candace intercepts her mom at the store and drags her to a Phineas-and-Ferb-built rollercoaster.  Linda flips out. 

In a fit of worry, she ships the boys to a boot camp that aims to destroy their “unacceptable levels of creativity, imagination, and unbridled enthusiasm.”  They’re brainwashed into safety-centered robots. They won’t even break out of the boot camp when Candace comes to rescue them, because it’s “against the rules.”

Of course, it turns out to be Candace’s bad dream, and she wakes up to the error of her overprotective ways.

And viewers just may, too! – D.P.




30 Responses to Free-Range Phineas and Ferb

  1. Stephanie July 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    My kids love Phineas & Ferb – their only frustration has been how few new episodes there have been lately. A couple this summer, but they hate waiting.

  2. Nicole July 4, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    This show is a favorite in our household – for both my 5 year old and my 2 year old. Plus my husband and I love watching it too. If you talk to the creators – they do not describe it as a cartoon for children; it is a cartoon that does not exclude children from it’s audience.

    One of the things I like best, is that they take the time to create plans for their things – they don’t just wing it and they build nearly all of it themselves.

    Every character is three-dimensional and acts in an age-appropriate manner (based on what their ages are most likely; well except for their skills with things like welding).

    The movie: Phineas and Ferb across the Second Dimension; is one of the best cases for being Free Range, as well as showing the dangers of a totalitarian ruler who does all your thinking for you.

  3. Mark Davis July 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    You didn’t even mention Perry the Platypus or Dr Doofenschmirtz! Though they’re not central to the free-rangey-ness of the show, they’re still essential to the whole P&F experience.

    But yes, great show that celebrates curiosity, creativity and independence.

  4. Linda July 4, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    I’m also a fan! I didn’t even think about the parents as compared to other shows, but it’s right on. Great show.

  5. Karen July 4, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    I love these things about Phineas and Ferb, but I wish there were girls on the show who also had that freedom and creativity. All the girls are either 1) cookie-baking mom or 2) fearful tattletale Candace or 3) groupies who admire Phineas and Ferb.

  6. Jenni July 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    This is easily the best thing on TV and, yes, the epitome of free-range! (Though this article does mix up two episodes with P&F getting busted … Trust me, we watch it A LOT!) And, though the boys are the central characters, I actually think Isabella is an awesome character. She has a crush, yes; but she and the “Fireside Girls” are incredibly capable and free-range themselves. Alternate-universe Candace in the movie is also kick-ass 🙂 Can’t wait for the Star Wars crossover episode later this month!

  7. K July 4, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    Thank you for the post! We had never seen it and love it.

  8. Yocheved July 4, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    My 11 year old loves this show as well.

    I also have to give a shout out to “My Little Pony”. Frankly, it’s embarrassing how much I adore this show. It’s smartly written, non preachy, full of adventure, and clean for all ages without being sickly sweet. I thought I would hate it, but when I caved and watched I was HOOKED!

  9. Tamara July 4, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    Love P & F too. @ Karen, I agree, more strong female role models. Although in the movie, Across the second dimension, other dimension Candace and Isabella kicked butt. The side they don’t often get to show, but you know it’s there!

    @Yocheved-yay, another closet Brony! Or Pegasister? Lol , love it. Netflix had an awesome documentary on the Brony phenomenon – pretty amazing. And they say kids learn nothing from tv.

  10. Tamara July 4, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Oh, and don’t forget the songs, the awesome awesome songs.

  11. AmyO July 4, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    In the meantime, the kids in “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” on PBS have to ask the mom if they can use their imaginations outside. That’s right, the freaking CAT IN THE HAT makes the kids go ASK PERMISSION to use their IMAGINATIONS.

    Sorry for the caps, but that show boils my blood.

  12. Warren July 4, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    Want to freak out your kids? Show them that the actor that supplies the voice of the dad is the same actor who played Riff Raff the Handyman in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in 1975.

  13. Leslie July 4, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    I ADORE Phineas & Ferb. Everything about it…the writing, the characters, the music. Listen to the soundtrack sometime….every song is hysterical AND catchy. Honestly, it is one of the smarter TV shows out there these days (animated or not).

  14. anonymous mom July 4, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    Phineas and Ferb is the only kid show I’ll pay attention to.

  15. David DeLugas July 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm #

    Karen, what about the Fireside Girls? Very clever, smart, capable, and decisive. I love this show and my soon to be 8 year old loves it, too. We watched one this evening where their father found an old coin from the Danville World’s Fair in 1903 at which the “new” energy of steam engines was on display and the boys, after attending and being inspired, built a steam powered “chore” machine that shucked the corn, milked the cows, mending the fences, and plowed the fields (and a Gatlin gun seeded it). History, science, friendship, and diversity in which the children create the means to have fun and to avoid boredom, without parents doing it for them. Love the show. Now, if we can only get others in the USA to BUTT out and allow parents (who are not harming their children) to decide how to raise their own. Mmmm, as the US Supreme Court says and Phineas and Ferb might add, “Yes, yes, that is for their own parents to decide.” Add your voice as a parent to ours:

  16. MichaelF July 5, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    P&F is one show my kids and I can watch together, that I don’t mind. It’s funny, they get to use their imaginations but honestly it’s been out there for quite awhile, not a new thing. Candace doesn’t come across as high strung to me, it’s more like sibling rivalry where she knows the boys are doing these incredible things and she’s not involved. It makes for great drama, and often is a wrap up and continuity between Perry and the boys.

  17. marjorie July 5, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Brava!!! I too adore this show. I interviewed the creators for Tablet magazine a few years ago (and actually linked to you in the piece!)

  18. MicheleinPlaya July 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    We LOVE Phineas and Ferb! I like how they show kids how to be smart AND cool at the same time! Candace is a crack up!

  19. LadyTL July 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Phineas and Ferb reminds me alot of a cartoon I loved growing up, Recess. Same thing though: the adults had names, the kids weren’t perfect, the adults cared about the kids without smothering them. There was adventures and fun and everything else.

    I just wish there was more of them.

  20. Kenny Felder July 5, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    I’ve heard of it but haven’t seen it. It sounds amazing!!!

  21. Alex July 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    As long as you’re discussing cartoons, there’s a Japanese comic series called Yotsuba&! that you might like. Granted, I’m not a parent–or anywhere close to being one–myself, and I have no idea what actual Japanese parenting mores are like, but this series definitely shows a Free Range ethos.

    It’s about an oddball 5-year-old named Yotsuba Koiwai, and each chapter is about her encountering something new and finding joy in it. She’s raised by a single father who at first seems like more of a slacker, but grows into someone more responsible, while still granting his daughter a lot of freedom. She plays with neighbors, explores the neighborhood–and sometimes other neighborhoods. Frequently the older neighborhood kids join her, which shows how much Yotsuba’s dad and their own parents trust them. About the only times Yotsuba’s scolded for running off on her own is when she doesn’t tell dad–like when she follows one neighbor to her high school, or wanders to an udon shop. He even sends her off to do things on her own sometimes!

    It’s also incredibly funny.

  22. Dee July 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    I love Phineas and Ferb and so does my son. It’s really an incredibly clever show. Lots of 80s references and in fact the boys are growing up in a way many of us did in the 70s and 80s. I frequently point out to my son that P&F never watch TV – they do things, every single day.

  23. Jenna K. July 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    We LOVE Phineas and Ferb. We buy the soundtracks to the shows. My oldest son had a Phineas and Ferb birthday party when he turned eight. My kids discovered this show in 2007 and at first I was annoyed at the “non-educational” cartoon they were always watching, until I sat down and watched it with them. Now, even my husband and I will sit down and watch it together when the kids aren’t even around. It’s clever and funny and very free range.

  24. Shari July 6, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    The kids and both parents love this show and the music (and the movie).

  25. SOA July 6, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    My kids love this show. One of our favorites.

  26. LauraDora July 7, 2014 at 1:40 am #

    I had not heard of this show yet, but now I want to check it out! Thanks for the witty review post!

  27. Paul July 8, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    “I haven’t seen this cartoon but it does sound great!”

    Words do not exist to describe how much you are likely to love this show. The complete, almost supernatural calm of the mom and dad in nearly every circumstance is like a master class in how not to freak out as a parent.

  28. Chicagojon July 8, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    I highly recommend for some good free range kid cartooning.

  29. Anon England July 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    You forgot the part where no-one treats Ferb like he’s stupid just because he doesn’t talk much…or whatever is going on with Ferb.

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