Have you ever watched a show that seemed cute, but 15 minutes later was taking you down a dark, twisted, and ultimately amazing road?
I have. That show’s name is Gravity Falls.
This animated series on Disney X.D. is centered around the brother and sister duo Dipper and Mabel Pines. After their great-uncle Stan takes them in for the summer, they end up exploring the mysterious occurrences in the strange town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Everything from gnomes to zombies to eldritch conspiracies abounds in this bizarre series, along with an equally colorful and evolving cast and a mythology centered around an ancient set of journals.
As entertaining as Dipper is for a protagonist, he’s also a bit of a deconstruction of your typical Boy Wonder or amateur sleuth. For one thing, it’s increasingly obvious that hunting mysteries tends to bring about more pain for everyone involved, with only the occasional life being saved from the hideous Monster of the Week or from the young psychic megalomaniac known as Gideon.
The real show stealer, however, is his sister Mabel. She is one ball of cheery delight, full of odd jokes, random lines of thought, raw cuteness, and a surprising level of depth when push comes to shove. She offers the benefit of being both a distraction from the more serious plot and a handy companion to Dipper’s mystery hunts.
I also love the supporting cast. “Grunkle” Stan is an awesome blend of cynical con artist and a begrudingly nice uncle, with one or two earth-shattering secrets somewhere up his sleeve. Soos, the local handyman, is entertainly dumb, but has a good heart. And then there’s Wendy, the tall redhead whom Dipper fixates on with a precocious crush. However, the show does a fine job around Season 2 of showing the reality subtext behind that crush and why those romances wouldn’t necessarily work out.
One of the things that first attracted me to the show was how much it reminded me of Invader Zim, a short-lived but popular Nickelodeon cartoon. The two shows share many things in common, including a penchant for black comedy and horror elements, a town full of very stupid or gullible people as its setting, and a very catchy theme song during the opening titles.
The other quality that keeps me cemented as a stark raving fan of Gravity Falls is the show’s impressive mythological arc. It raises so many questions while offering a few tantalizing clues. Why does the town of Gravity Falls attract so much weirdness? Who wrote Dipper’s journal and why? And what in the name of all that is holy is Grunkle Stan doing in his secret room in the basement? The showrunners have done a fine job of throwing in actual bits of cryptography and esoteric symbols to both give a conspiratorial atmosphere and keep the fans guessing.
It might not sound like it based on some of the divergent turns I’ve taken, but Gravity Falls is a pretty cool show for both kids and adults to enjoy. It’s got tons of adventures and colorful visuals for children, a bit of romance and drama for teens, and a heady blend of adult humor and mythological references to keep the whole thing a bit more coherent than the usual fare.
So why are you still sitting here and reading this? Go and watch it already.
Gravity Falls is available through Disney X.D. New episodes air on Mondays.
Bibliography: Gravity Falls. Created by Alex Hirsch. Directed by John Aoshima, Aaron Springer, Joe Pitt, Rob Renzetti, and Matt Braly. Produced by Alex Hirsch, Tobias Conan Trost, Brian Doell, and Rob Renzetti. Disney Television Animation. Disney Channel (2012 – 2014), Disney X.D. (2014 – present). Original run: June 15, 2012 – present.