Show: Gravity Falls
Network and years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2012-2016
AniB’s thoughts: I suspect the people who wind up reading this review will have one of a few reactions: a) This show was incredible- I only wished it reached a larger audience; b) “Yeah, I heard about it at some point, but haven’t really watched it,” or c) What the heck is Gravity Falls? Well, I’ll do my best to accommodate all these points of view, because while Gravity Falls reached notoriety among its viewers and fans, by virtue of being a Disney .XD show in its 2nd and final season, it most likely did not reach the entire audience it could have. That isn’t to say that it’s an obscure show- because it’s not- but more so because it was a show that deserved more exposure than it got, especially considering its brilliant, final 6 months airing the remainder of its new episodes, which wrapped up with the conclusion of the Weirdmageddon arc nearly a year ago on February 15th, 2016. This show, without a doubt, is probably the best Western animated show of the decade, and it came from a director- Alex Hirsch- who was writing it in his debut as a show-runner. Blending dynamic, interesting and funny characters, a very fresh take on the “summer vacation trope,” quite a bit of inspiration from The X-Files and The Simpsons, and a unique blend of episodic and overarching storytelling styles, all wrapped in a neat 40 episode packages, you get Gravity Falls. And honestly, that description doesn’t really do it justice.
“But AniB,” you might ask, “best Western show of the decade? Are you sure?” Absolutely. Of course there’s stiff competition for that particular title in my head, and while I’ll mention the following shows, this isn’t their review: Adventure Time is probably the best representative show of the decade, debuting in 2010 and still going strong, but not the best overall; some will claim Steven Universe, but that series is not completed yet and lacks certain facets the very best shows have (but its emotional storytelling? Brilliant.) What of Rick and Morty, the Adult Swim phenomenon? Overrated by a vocal crowd. You can love your shows and your memes, but don’t confuse them with overall quality. And while I do enjoy The Legend of Korra (of which I already wrote a review about), Gravity Falls is a tier above it- but to be fair, they are hard to compare shows simply because in terms of style and substance they are very different. What makes Gravity Falls unique is that it’s not only all the aspects I’ve already described, but at the heart of the show lies one of the best sibling relationships ever seen on a TV screen- that of Dipper and Mabel Pines. It’s not a forced sort of relationship, where one sibling is pushy and the other is meek, or the trap where writers create tension between the two for the sake of having it, but it’s wonderfully organic; two different kids who are undeniably close at the end of the day- and mostly, “human” is the best word. As it turns out, the twins were inspired by Hirsch and his sister; a personal connection to a show, combined with a vision to end it on one’s own terms as a creator usually yields great results.
Gravity Falls is for me a personal favorite that I happened to come upon halfway through its run, but even divorced from that affection as a critic, it’s a show that was clearly designed to entertain anyone– as it targets both an older and younger audience adeptly. The logic that “the secret to writing a show that’s entertaining for kids is to write for adults” holds true here; the twins’ “Grunkle” Stan is a con-man with a complicated past; there are references to everything from Mad Max to the boy band craze of the early 2000’s; crazy creatures straight out of mythology appear in unorthodox ways, and the satire and symbolism in the show is not only obvious, but hilariously well done. And the show has its darker elements too- led by the major antagonist of the show, the fast-talking mind demon with truly outsized ambitions- the chaotic Bill Cipher. Whatever the case, Gravity Falls has something for everyone as a show, and as the show’s finale notes, “see you next summer…” because you almost certainly will be back. Take a trip in the woods if you haven’t, and you might just find a gem.
Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, painstakingly done with care. Simplistic style of characters is very worn and familiar in feeling, reminiscent of The Simpsons (one of the show’s inspirations) and earlier cartoons. Background sets are varied, highly detailed and well thought out, hiding Easter eggs in the episodes. (The show runners actually hid keys in every episode to solve ciphers embedded in the credits of the show; this was a truly impressive detail and tied in the mystery element of the show on a whole new level for fans.) For this style of show, the attention to detail, the animation style, and the way it builds the universe- it’s all very highly appealing. 5/5 points.
Characterization: Featuring a rich, diverse and dynamic cast, Gravity Falls lays claim to some of the most funny, likable and heartfelt characters from any show. With excellent development, the main cast is very endearing in distinct ways.
Dipper Pines, the main (c0-)protagonist and one of two twins, is an intelligent 12 year old boy who becomes engrossed in the mysteries of the titular town and grows to learn a lot about his abilities and shortcomings as a person. Dipper, as you might expect, has strengths and weaknesses that contrast with his sister; while he has a nose for mystery, discovery, reading and the like, he is physically weak (though improves through the course of the show), quite introverted in certain social situations, and often seems all too eager to grow up, forgetting sometimes to enjoy his childhood (and each day, for that matter.) He also cares extremely deeply for his family; he has innate courage that comes out when most needed.
Mabel, his sister, is a ham, preferring to keep a bright outlook on life while quietly fearing the prospect of growing up (in contrast to her brother). She is all things “fun and random,” preferring social activities with her friends in Gravity Falls (Grenda and Candy), such as listening to pop music and having slumber parties. Most distinctive about her is her one-of a kind sweater collection, which she constantly knits off screen. (She wears upwards of 100 distinct sweaters over the course of the series- can you count them all?) As I highlighted in my thoughts, the two twins share a sincere, sweet bond that is one of the best portrayals of siblings in any show.
Their great-uncle, or “Grunkle” Stan, is one of the most well-rounded older characters developed in animation. Billed initially as a shyster of a tourist trap (The Mystery Shack), Stan’s motivations and character turn out to be far deeper than simply turning a profit. (MAJOR SPOILERS, turn away if you must): Stan’s real motives are to fix a 30-year old rift gate (that rends time and space) in order to rescue his long lost brother, who in turn he must also mend his relationship with. Despite his questionable habits and disposition that most would see as “grouchy” and “cheap” from afar, he’s got a heart of gold for family (and brass knuckles for anyone who messes with them!).
As for Stan’s employees, Soos, the Mystery Shack’s handyman, is fleshed out as a sweet, naive man-child, with plenty of warmth and a helpful hand, despite serving as comic relief most times, and Wendy, the Shack’s other employee is the most believably cool teenager in a long time on an animated show. The only daughter in a family full of sons that are lumberjacks, she’s a classic sort of “cool” without really forcing it.
A quick mention here to Bill Cipher, the “dream demon” and triangular-shaped main antagonist, who in turn is a brilliant portrayal of a chaotically evil villain, containing a blend of dark humor and truly threatening qualities. I’ll also mention Gideon, the strange Southern-accented faux psychic who serves as the 1st season’s main threat. The rest of the cast is also intriguing and generally very funny, including the mysterious author of the journals. 5/5 points.
Story quality: The show has an impressive story arc, but also is episodic, with most episodes able to stand on their own. The finale lived up to massive hype, completing everything in most satisfying fashion. Even the supposedly “filler” episodes advance the plot, whether through subtle clues or through focused character development, so there’s no real filler in the traditional description. There’s impressive detail to hidden codes, genuinely funny moments abound, and very clever satire exists throughout the series. More serious scenes are treated with painstaking detail and add balance to the lighter parts of Gravity Falls. 5/5 points.
Themes: Definitely focuses on mystery and the wonders of unexplained phenomena. However, the show also focuses on friendship, growing up, familial bonds and brother/sisterhood. Uses certain symbolism related to secret societies and the like to set the tone in a very savvy form of satire- the more you mess with this stuff, the worse things become! (It’s also a subtle criticism of messing with such groups and supernatural forces). Indeed, all these ideas come to a head in the satisfying final arc. 4.5/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: Gravity Falls is an incredibly smart show, balancing the kid audience on one hand and the older audience on the other with great characters, storytelling, and very smooth animation. The level of painstaking detail and the great score add to the show’s charm as well. And how can I not mention the incredibly catchy theme song? (And it even has a special variation…) 5/5 points.
Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%). The first show run by creator Alex Hirsch turned into arguably the greatest animated show of the 2010’s and one of the better animated shows of all time. With a blend of memorable characters, superb writing and animation that brought out the best of the medium and a widely universal appeal, Gravity Falls showed the power of Western animation at its finest.
Like what you see? Wish to express an opinion? Feel free to comment!