Life in 2D: Dan Povenmire on the Greatest Cartoons Ever, Salsa Music, and Not Being A Jerk
Dan Povenmire is perhaps best known as the co-creator of the Disney Channel smash hit Phineas and Ferb. Though born in California, he was raised in Mobile, Alabama, where he discovered the joys of drawing and movie-making. He went to the University of South Alabama and USC School of Cinematic Art before embarking on a busy career as a writer, television director, producer, storyboard artist and actor. He’s worked on some of the biggest animated series of our time, including The Simpsons, Rocko’s Modern Life, SpongeBob SquarePants, Hey Arnold, and Family Guy, for which he was nominated for an Annie in 2005. He’s been nominated for ten Emmys in four different categories, including songwriting and voiceover performance, and won one for his writing. (We profiled Dan at greater length here.)
I spoke to Dan this week about Phineas and Ferb‘s genesis and why Bullwinkle Moose would be the ultimate weapon in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
Charles Arrowsmith: You and Jeff (“Swampy”) Marsh were pitching Phineas and Ferb on and off from the early 90s until Disney picked it up in 2007. What would a mid-90s Phineas and Ferb have looked like? Has its evolution been affected by the projects you’ve worked on, from The Simpsons onwards?
Dan Povenmire: I think Phineas would have looked almost identical, but it would have felt different. Swampy and I were reacting to all the shows that were on the air at the time in which every single character was either a jerk or an idiot so, just to be contrary, we made a decision to do a show in which everyone is smart and none of the characters were actually jerks. I don’t know that we would have made that same decision had we done it earlier in our careers or that we would have had the confidence to stand by that decision. Comedy is a lot harder to do if you don’t go to the mean place. The cheapest laugh you can get is an insult or snarky comment, so if you take that off the table you have to write smarter.
CA: Both Phineas and Ferb and the Family Guy episodes you directed in the show’s early years are well known and loved for their musical numbers. Where haven’t you taken the show, musically? What’s still on your iPod yet to be pastiched?
DP: We’ve never really done a salsa number, but maybe that’s because my wife is Latin and I would’ve been intimidated by her knowledge of what salsa is supposed to sound like… and thank you for using “pastiched” in a sentence.
CA: Phineas and Ferb exist defiantly and triumphantly in two dimensions. What’s the state of the art in animation? Looking through the list of all-time highest-grossing animated movies, with the exception of The Lion King all the big hitters are computer-animated; is there still space for classic animation on the big screen?
DP: Yes, 2D is alive and well and living on TV. I think if you were to adjust the grosses of all the animated features for what a ticket cost at the time of their releases, you might find that list to be quite different. Right now there is a feeling in features that 2D is dead because there hasn’t been a big 2D hit in a long while. Eventually someone will make a really engaging 2D movie that becomes a big hit and then everyone will say “It’s so retro!” and suddenly people will want to make them again. I love animation in all its forms, just give me a good story with strong characters.
CA: If you could rescue only five examples of the art of animation in the event of (inevitable?) zombie apocalypse, what would they be?
DP: A boxed set of all the Chuck Jones Looney Tunes shorts, a boxed set of all of Miyazaki’s films, Aladdin, and Tangled… and a 24-inch pewter sculpture of Bullwinkle Moose, because I could hit zombies with it, and I think those antlers would do some damage.
CA: What are the last three books you read?
DP: I re-read The Stand by Stephen King recently, which is one of my favorites. Other than that it was two books that I didn’t even like, so I don’t want to tell you the names (I wouldn’t have even finished one of them but it was an audiobook and it was either that or the radio, so…) How about this? Other than The Stand, there are only two books I’ve read twice: Replay by Ken Grimwood, and Memoirs Of An Invisible Man by H. F. Saint.
CA: Thanks, Dan!
If you’ve never seen Phineas and Ferb, you can watch loads of it on YouTube. Here’s the amazing Star Wars episode they did:
“Hey, Ferb! I know what we’re doing on November 17!”
Dan Povenmire is one of our Seriously Entertaining guests at No Satisfaction at City Winery alongside Ruby Wax, Hooman Majd, and Philip Gourevitch.