Review: Gravity Falls

An ambitious mystery show that broke from the Disney mold is sure to be remembered as a classic.

The Lowdown:

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!

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

13 thoughts on “Review: Gravity Falls”

  1. Yes, another one of my absolute favorites. Gravity Falls had the best and most consistent writing I’ve seen of late (as you mentioned Adventure Time can be great, but is very inconsistent). I loved the overarching mystery, which reminded me a lot of another favorite show, Lost, and the four-episode finale was up there with Avatar’s for a satisfying conclusion. I hope Alex Hirsch keeps directing quality shows like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the insightful comment! I absolutely agree about the consistency of the writing. Gravity Falls really doesn’t have a “bad” episode per se; over its 40 episodes I always found something enjoyable in about every one. The mystery was great- and I loved the balance the show kept between serious and humorous. I also do believe Alex Hirsch should be able to write and direct more shows like this one; I’m very curious what his next project will turn out to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising to say that I don’t agree with your assessment that the show is the best animated series of the decade. If I had to pick something for that category it would probably be Over the Garden Wall, but that’s probably not fair since that’s not a full length series.

    I will say that I enjoyed many aspects and parts of the series, such as the art and the many of the characters. The series no doubt had a lot of great episodes, with Not What Seems being the greatest season finale to an animated series since Crossroads of Destiny, and yes I know that technically wasn’t a season finale but given how season two turned it might as well have been one. That being said, if I had to judge the series as a whole I would have to say that I was ultimately pretty disappointed by it in the end, and if you find me in a foul enough mood I’d even go as far as to say that it was bad (though that’s not my usual opinion).

    The reasons why I feel this way could probably fill an entire article, in fact it could probably fill up several articles, but I’ll just say one thing here that I think would get lost in a much more “analytical” discussion. The simple fact is, I didn’t really enjoy the humor of the series, which is not good thing since the show liked to keep the jokes flowing even when they probably shouldn’t but that’s another thing entirely. Now I don’t think this is necessarily because the humor was bad, but it just wasn’t my thing. For example, I happen to enjoy the humor of Steven Universe much more then that of Gravity Falls, which last I checked was not a popular opinion, at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually thrilled you feel this way, as a large part of my inspiration to begin this blog was to have amazing discussion about contrarian opinions if they came up. I have seen Over the Garden Wall; it does do some incredible things as a miniseries, but in turn, I’ll respectfully disagree that it’s better than GF. Humor is definitely a subjective element, and while I personally thought the show did a great job of hitting its points, I also can understand where you’re coming from. I’ve also watched every episode of Steven Universe so far. Really different show in style from Gravity Falls; I’d say GF is a lot funnier, but SU’s focus tends to be strongest on its emotional storytelling, which I’ve believed from the beginning. I might do a “preliminary review” of SU after this current season ends, but I’m not jumping to conclusions yet on a series that has not ended…which is another reason I made the assessment I did about Gravity Falls. I never expected 100% of people to feel the exact same way about a show, and the fact that you expressed your opinion with something to back that up (some personal explanation and self analysis) is great. Really enjoying your comments!


      1. I’m glad you enjoy my presence since I think I’ll probably stick around for awhile. It’s fun to have people to discuss things you enjoy, even if you disagree.

        I don’t think there is any modern animated series is quite as universally praised as Gravity Falls right now (save perhaps Rick and Morty, but that’s probably not a good comparison). You’ll find people who criticize aspects of it, but rarely if ever do you see anyone who really goes against it. I guess that’s partially because it never out stayed its welcome like Adventure Time did for a lot of people, nor does it have the “controversy” that Steven Universe has going against it. As such I’m always leery about going full force critical of Gravity Falls, especially since liked quite a bit of the show anyway.

        I remember Gravity Falls and Steven Universe having a lot of crossover fans despite how different they are. Even though I haven’t watched the most recent episodes I would say that Steven Universe is probably my favorite series on right now (though I admit that I haven’t necessarily keeping track of all the animated series out now). I personally I think it does a lot of things better then Gravity Falls does and I honestly just think it is a more mature series (in the well-developed and intelligent sense as opposed to the edgy sense).

        Going back to your review I noticed you spoke about Gravity Falls having “something for everyone” and to be honest I’ve always found that cartoon that try to do that (especially when they trying to develop characters or have a serious storyline), or that try to “strike a balance between humor and seriousness” either fall flat or become annoying because the humor becomes intrusive and/or you can not take the story or characters seriously.


      2. It’s absolutely a pleasure to chat about a topic you like (and have some gained expertise in). Part of the fun come when people have different opinions; diversity of thought is really important to a healthy discussion! And I’m glad to hear you’d like to stick around; your thoughts have been well articulated.

        As for Gravity Falls (once again), I say it has “something for everyone”because it does work for just about any audience. Normally, I might be inclined to agree with you about the “something for everyone” idea falling flat (i.e. Fox’s animation block is lowest common denominator and is pretty terrible, honestly), but Gravity Falls does a reasonably good job. I think about it in the Pixar sense: their movies usually hit the mark for that universal audience, and I believe it’s quite possible to accomplish a wide appeal with good writing that avoids needless pandering or very low-brow humor.

        A word as well about Steven Universe: As I said before, different show, different objectives, different strengths. I think I’ll save my thoughts on the show for a more formal piece, and leave it at “it’s a good show” for now.


  3. (Not sure why I can’t comment directly to your most recent comment, but whatever)

    I guess when you put it that way it is true that Gravity Falls did have something that would appeal to all audiences. There is of course still the pitfall of losing some of your audience when the thing that they like goes out of focus or is lost in the series development.

    It’s funny that you bring up Fox animated comedies, because I actually find that Gravity Falls style of humor is very similar; irreverent, edgy, often in your face, and the show itself often lingers on jokes to the point of even grinding the episode to halt. Now I’m not saying the Gravity Fall’s humor was as that of a Fox comedy, and I’d actually put that down to the fact the show was still on Disney and had to conform to a TV-Y7.

    Since I think we’ll probably just going in circles if we continue down this subject (then again maybe not), how about listing a few of favorite and least favorites to try to change gears a bit? My favorites include: Not What He Seems, The Hand that Rocks the Mabel, Dipper and Mabel Vs. The Future, Into the Bunker, and Northwest Mansion Mystery. My least favorites include: The Love God, Roadside Attraction, and all three parts of Weirdmageddon (but particularly Part 2: Escape From Reality).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All excellent choices for favorite episodes: Dipper and Mabel vs the Future might be my personal favorite, especially that last 5 minutes, which is just perfect. Weirdmageddon is largely a choice of preference based on whether or not you enjoyed how the series finished; I personally liked them, but you’ve already explained in previous posts why you didn’t (and made sense.)


      1. I don’t remember posting why I didn’t like Weirdmageddon here, unless you were referring to something I posted on Reddit.

        Even though I do like Dipper and Mabel vs the Future I honestly do find it a little hard to fully sympathize with Mabel. Yeah, it’s all kind of sudden and that can be pretty hard on someone, but it kind of makes her out to be kind of naive and immature, which I guess she is but it’s not really addressed in the story or later on. It’s still a very good episode regardless.

        The Hand that Rocks the Mabel will always hold a special place in my heart. By that point in my viewing of the show I was entirely sold on it and only cared about Dipper as a character. This episode not only got me invested in the show with the idea of greater story and it really sold me on Mabel as a character. I usually think highly of episodes that can get me to care about a character I otherwise wouldn’t. That’s why I also count episodes like Northwest Mansion Mystery, Soos and the Real Girl, and The Inconveniencing as my favorites.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Great explanation of your rationale. The Hand that Rocks the Mabel was terrific in giving some depth to one of the lead characters; I’d agree with the assessment that Dipper was far more intriguing and his sibling needed something else to her character (beside strong sibling bond, which was fantastic, but didn’t do much to define her outside that relationship). The episode was not only to further Mabel as a character, but introduced us to Gideon as an actual threat. (That warehouse scene is dark.) Your other episodes choices are great as well; Soos and the Real Girl has some very interesting implications outside its context of Gravity Falls; NMM is just a fantastic episode, and The Inconveniencing took me from “very intrigued about this show and its potential” to “sold. Keep it coming!”


    1. For me, it just hit the right blend of mystery, action and humor; it was rather different from the 4 episodes preceding it (we finally got real character development for Wendy), and it continued my belief that Dipper was an outstanding character with a good character arc to start.


      1. I was really not looking forward to how Dipper’s crush was going to play out, but at least for this episode I was impressed with how they handled it, and it’s probably the single best episode for Wendy in terms of characterization.

        It’s kind of sad that after that episode (and others like it) the show never really took advantage of these newly established characters for anything beyond their specific episodes.

        That probably has to do with the show’s focus on “family”, but that’s a completely different can of worms.

        Liked by 1 person

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