'Phineas and Ferb' Creators on the Challenges of Integrating Marvel Superheroes (Q&A)

Disney's animated series Phineas and Ferb debuts a special crossover episode featuring Marvel superheroes this weekend, a one-hour broadcast that has been years in the making.

About a year following Disney's acquisition of comic-book giant Marvel Entertainment in August of 2009, discussions began about combining the rich superhero world of Marvel with Phineas and Ferb, a program that follows the adventures of two stepbrothers. What came to be was Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, the first major animated crossover between Disney and Marvel, which sees heroes like Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Spider-Man losing their powers and calling upon Phineas and Ferb to help restore them.

"It helps that we have a big kid audience that some of these older properties haven't been hitting as hard," co-creator Dan Povenmire tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I think they'll get some fans and we'll get some fans from our respective audiences."

STORY: Disney Channel, Marvel Team for 'Phineas and Ferb' Crossover

"We're doing a pretty good job as far as the audience of parents in the room, and also from what we hear, a fair amount of college kids," co-creator Jeff "Swampy Marsh tells THR of Phineas and Ferb's broad reach. "There's no real [loss] here."

In a chat with THR, Phineas and Ferb co-creators Povenmire and Marsh discuss how the partnership came together, what the biggest challenges were and how a sketch on a Post-It spawned the upcoming Star Wars crossover episode in 2014. (Plus, THR debuts an exclusive scene between Iron Man and Thor from the Aug. 16 broadcast.)

The Hollywood Reporter: When did you start having discussions with Marvel about doing a crossover episode?

Dan Povenmire: [Disney] approached both us and Marvel after the merger [in August of 2009] and said, "Would you guys like to do a crossover episode?," which we thought was never a possibility. We said, "Yes ... I think that would be a lot of fun," and Marvel was amenable to it as well. We actually started this in January of last year; we started knocking around story ideas and seeing what we could make work. We wanted it to be not only a good Phineas episode, but a good Marvel episode as well, and I think that's what we've done. It's got the action and the superhero feel of a Marvel episode and all the humor of a Phineas episode mixed together.
Jeff "Swampy" Marsh: They gave us the time we really needed to make sure we got all the characters right and we got humor from all the right places, not by changing the characters or mocking them in any way. It took a while to get it right and still have something that was genuinely funny and genuinely exciting -- and everybody was supportive of that. 

THR: What do you think made Phineas the right fit for crossover appeal?

Povenmire: I think it came down to, "OK, we've got Marvel, we've done this movie, but we haven't done anything where we crossover any Disney properties," and they felt like Phineas was the property that made the most sense to try to do in an animated form. It's a lot more palpable for the fans. 

STORY: 'Phineas and Ferb' Heads to 'Star Wars' Universe in Special Episode

THR: What were the unique challenges that you faced in incorporating these well-known superheroes that many people know and are familiar with?

Povenmire: We know our characters very, very well, and we sort of know them as real people and [Marvel] knows their characters really well. Of course, we're familiar with all of the characters, but not necessarily as familiar as you need to be to really write with them. We involved [Marvel] in the process. We would pitch to them and they would sometimes say things like, "Oh, no, you can't have Iron Man pick up Thor's hammer, that's outside the realm of what we can do."
Marsh: There is such a labyrinth of rules about each of the characters and how their powers work and what universes they inhabit, and without a really good guide, who just knows that stuff off the top of their head, it's impossible to put something together that works that doesn't violate any of these character basics. It took a while to negotiate something to where we got to a story, which we thought was really working well that, again, didn't violate any of these rules either on their side or on our side and kept the characters intact. It was quite a challenge. It took a lot of moving story pieces around 'til it all got right.

THR: From the sound of it, a lot more challenging than usual?

Povenmire: Exactly. It's more than usual because we have these new toys to play with but those toys don't belong to us and they come with their own rules.
Marsh: We have to give them back when we're done with them and hope they're not broken. [Laughs]

THR: Can you share a funny or interesting conversations that you guys had with Marvel?

Marsh: One of the best conversations we had with the Marvel guys ended up in the show, and I'll let Dan tell it.
Povenmire: At a certain point in the episode, all the superheroes get their powers switched and we had Iron Man getting Thor's powers, so we had him going around and hitting things with a hammer, and the Marvel guys said, "I'm sorry you can't have him pick it up," and I was like, "Well, he's got Thor's powers, he should be able to pick it up."
Marsh: "Yes ..." they said, "It's not about strength or anything, it's about worthiness."
Povenmire: "Can't worthiness be part of the power?" "No, it doesn't work that way." "What can we have him do? Can we have him fly?" 
Marsh: "No, he can fly but only with the hammer."
Povenmire: "What about the lightning? He's the god of thunder!"
Marsh: "Also with the hammer ..." [Laughter]
Povenmire: We had a very frustrating conversation because then we had to go back and rewrite a big section of the show, but as soon as we left [the meeting], we were like, "What are going to do?" One of our directors said, "We should just put that conversation in the show." We put that conversation almost word for word between Thor and Iron Man. It became one of the funnier moments. (Watch the scene above.)
Marsh: We were so glad it got a good reaction from the Marvel guys. [Laughs]

THR: Is there a particular moment from the Marvel episode that stands out for you?

Povenmire: There is a lot of good moments. For us, it all crescendos in a big action scene that is exciting and funny to watch. That was the thing we were hoping for, that we could come up with something that felt like a superhero crescendo but still be something that would make you laugh all the way through it, making the gags happen through the action. 
Marsh: One of my favorite small bits was Tony Stark offering Phineas and Ferb a summer internship at Stark Industries. It's a throwaway and it's really sweet.

THR: You're also doing a Star Wars crossover episode next year. 

Povenmire: We are. The fact that they allowed us to do a Marvel crossover really emboldened us, and as soon as we found out there was a merger with Lucasfilm, I literally drew on a Post-It a picture of Doofenshmirtz as Darth Vader and I took a picture of it and texted it to the head of the TV animation studio and said, "I smell crossover!"  He wrote back and said, "I'm having lunch with the head of the channel right now. That was the first thing we started talking about." It happened very quickly apparently. Their pitch to [Disney chairman/CEO] Bob Iger was the picture [I drew]. I wasn't in this meeting but what we were told was Bob Iger said, "Oh, yeah, we gotta get right on that." That was as much as it took.

THR: So your spur-of-the-moment sketch was what got the ball rolling.

Povenmire: Apparently. A lot of it is that everybody was very happy with how the Marvel episode turned out, and I think that was what paved the way for that to be an easier conversation. They felt like, "These guys are the ones we can go to for this kind of a crossover because they're reverent enough about the source material but still are able to pull the humor out of that situation."
Marsh: We were a pair of hands they felt comfortable putting something that important in, which was a huge compliment to us.

Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel debuts Friday at 8 p.m. on Disney Channel before premiering on sister network Disney XD on Aug. 25 at 10 a.m.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube