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A Review of Disney Channel's Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls, created by Alex Hirsch, is one of the Disney Channel’s newest cartoons. It premiered in the United States on July 29, 2012 after a preview was aired in June.
The series revolves around twelve-year-old fraternal twins Dipper and Mabel Pines, who are spending their summer vacation with their Great Uncle (Grunkle) Stan in the delightful and fictional Gravity Falls, Oregon. It doesn’t take Dipper long to realize that something strange is going on, and when he finds a mysterious book marked 3 that details all the peculiar, paranormal beings that may or may not be living in the greater Gravity Falls area, his suspicions are confirmed. Each week, Dipper and his sister Mabel uncover new mysteries and learn new things about themselves.
In some ways, the show is reminiscent of predecessors such as Eerie, Indiana and Twin Peaks, both of which dealt with strange towns and the strange people who filled them. It’s a funny, light-hearted show with occasional moments of seriousness.
THE MAJOR CHARACTERS
Dipper Pines (Jason Ritter) is a determined kid with an accidental interest in the paranormal. He and his twin sister Mabel encounter all sorts of strange, paranormal activity in their summer hometown of Gravity Falls. Dipper likes to be in control of things and is never without a plan.
Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal) is the goofy, spirited twin sister of Dipper. She is energetic, enthusiastic, and rarely without a smile on her face. She knits her own creative set of sweaters and has a pet pig named Waddles. Unlike her brother, Mabel tends to enjoy unexpected, silly situations.
Grunkle Stan (Alex Hirsch) is great-uncle to Mabel and Dipper and their guardian for the summer they spend in Gravity Falls. He owns and operates the Mystery Shack, a tourist trap filled with strange and unexplained things. He is a sly, grumpy man whose primary interest is making more money.
Soos (Alex Hirsch) works for Grunkle Stan at the Mystery Shack. He is loveable, easy-going, and always up for an adventure. He frequently joins Dipper and Mabel on their supernatural adventures.
Wendy (Linda Cardellini) is another employee of the Mystery Shack. She is fifteen, mellow, and cool. She may or may not be aware of Dipper's big, impossible crush on her.
Despite having been on the air only a short amount of time, Gravity Falls is already one of the most promising shows of 2012. It is likeable, funny, and heartfelt. Its humor often comes from unexpected places, but never inappropriate ones. As cliché as it might be to say, it really is a show for the whole family.
Gravity Falls is not overt in its lessons or messages. In fact, the idea that cartoons should spell out their moral at the end of an episode is used to some great comedic effect. One lesson that jokingly comes up in spoken dialogue is “Revenge is underrated” (“Irrational Treasure”). Another is “Being rich is great!” (“Fight Fighters”). However, these are not the true lessons that come from this show. Gravity Falls is more subtle than that. The audience, through the characters of Dipper and Mabel, learn lessons like self-acceptance, taking responsibility, and accepting consequences.
It is no accident that the main characters of the show are twelve years old. Dipper and Mabel are dealing with approaching adolescence; they are trying to navigate between the world of childhood and impending teenager-dom. Setting a show like this in a supernatural setting like Gravity Falls is an inspired touch. Each time Dipper or Mabel is dealing with some crisis or tough spot in their lives, the show manifests that struggle by making it a paranormal one. When Dipper, praying for his first chest hair, is worried that he isn’t manly enough, he meets the Manotaurs, who live in man caves, are summoned by beef jerky, and have fists for nipples. They teach him the ways of becoming a Man, until one lesson goes too far for Dipper and he stands up to them, and leaves. Dipper may not have become any manlier that day, but he did learn to accept himself and realize he didn’t have to fit the same standards as everyone else. When Mabel realizes suddenly that she is sillier than many other girls her age, she decides she has to conform and force herself to become more serious and grown-up. However, her innate silliness just can’t be suppressed and winds up being an asset—it is only through her antics that she and Dipper are able to solve the mystery of this episode and she is able to meet an adult who is just as silly as she is, and very happy for it. She realizes she doesn’t care what other people think and that she shouldn’t be ashamed of who she is. Pre-teen characters are often portrayed in the media as screaming, media-obsessed, annoying characters with no thought for those around them. One of Gravity Falls’s great strengths is that it shows the struggles its adolescent characters go through as legitimate and universal. What kid, when trying to figure out his or her identity, hasn’t worried that he or she don’t fit some expected mold? Who hasn’t tried to change themselves, not because they were unhappy, but because they were different? On its surface, Gravity Falls may be about supernatural sea monsters and time travelling pigs, but at its core it’s a show about how to navigate growing up.
Another truly appealing aspect of Gravity Falls is that its two protagonists, Dipper and Mabel, are siblings who actually like each other. Often, siblings are portrayed as default enemies. They are in each others’ way, they are an annoyance to be put up with only when absolutely necessary, they are the biggest pain in one’s life. Sure, most television shows and movies aimed at kids will eventually have these siblings concede a little and stick up for a sibling in need (a “No one beats up my little brother but me” kind of mentality) but more often than not they just go back fighting each other. Dipper and Mabel are not like this. They may have their differences from time to time but each is always the first the other goes to in a moment of need. Dipper is fiercely protective of those he cares about, and Mabel is more than happy to go along with any scheme. Gravity Falls may have one of the most positive portrayals of siblings on television today.
Gravity Falls, unlike many other shows aimed at kids, also features a definite sense of continuity. The end of an episode does not default the show back to the same status quo that started it. Relationships between characters grow and become more complicated. Characters learn things in one episode that they’ll carry to the next. There is even a storyline featuring characters time travelling back to previous episodes, and if you were to go back and re-watch the earlier stories, you would notice this action going on in the background. This is more than just a clever joke, however. Continuity allows character development, and character development allows people to grow and change. These are important for kids to see since their lives and relationships will also be changing as their lives go on.
Finally, the show is very funny. It features all sorts of humor, both subtle and obvious. From visual gags to hidden references to its excellent voice cast, Gravity Falls would be hugely entertaining even without its impressive underlying themes. Show creator Alex Hirsch, whose previous writing credits include The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Fish Hooks, hits a great balance between silly and clever in his writing and brings the characters of Grunkle Stan and Soos to life with his voice work. Jason Ritter brings a self-seriousness to Dipper and Kristen Schaal voices Mabel with such delight that you can’t help but love her and want her to succeed.
Overall it’s a fun, family-friendly show that can appeal to adults without relying on adult humor to do so.
Gravity Falls airs new episodes on Fridays at 9:30 EST, 8:30 CST on Disney Channel.