Preliminary Review: DuckTales (2017)

The rebooted action of a beloved classic gets put to the critic’s test.

Ducks, ducks and more ducks…I had no idea that my next piece would be about Disney’s clan of the birds after Daffy Duck’s character piece, but here we are, kicking off September at the time of this writing with a special preliminary review. Yes, one season is finally in  the books for the highly-anticipated reboot of DuckTales, and it’s my pleasure to finally put some numbers and analysis on this bad boy. Let’s take a dive in like Scrooge does with his money bin!

The Lowdown:

Show: DuckTales (2017)

Studio/network/years aired: Disney Television Animation, Disney X.D./Channel, 2017-

AniB’s thoughts: A year or so ago, I sat down and watched with great interest the pilot for this reboot of the beloved 90’s classic. That specific first impression can be found here. Recently though, the first season of this ‘toon wrapped up and so, the time has finally come for the first review of the show at hand, and I must say- it acquitted itself well.

I suppose any DuckTales conversation worth its salt starts with Scrooge McDuck, the famous Scottish adventurer of fame and (very, very, very) great fortune. Returning more to his comic roots in terms of design, Scrooge’s miserly pallor is lifted in the opening act of the season, and the bold, famous duck of legend is back in full here. He doesn’t appear in every episode, but he does in most and when he’s center stage, he frankly steals the show. With the death of long-time Scrooge VA Alan Young prior to the show’s debut, it’s David Tennant- better known as one of the Dr. Who’s- who steps admirably into the void left here, and truthfully does some great work as the Scottish spitfire.

One of the most prominent moves in the adaptation was the decision to overhaul Webby Vanderquack’s character and personality entirely. While both this version and the original 1989 show saw a kind girl wishing to be the “fourth triplet” with Huey, Dewey and Louie, the current incarnation has some incredible martial arts and spy training, courtesy of her grandma (more on Mrs. Beakley in a bit) but also some social aloofness and naivete stemming from her sheltered upbringing. She’s energetic and tends to get overexcited about things that catch her interest, particularly the life and history of Scrooge, who she idolizes. It’s my opinion this version of the character is equal parts charming and cute, but not too annoying, and it works.

Another welcome change was the inclusion of Donald Duck as a major supporting character in this iteration of DuckTales. In an eye for detail, Donald is regaled in his classic comics sailor’s outfit, but is also true to the most classic iterations of the character- bombastic but also highly caring of his family and friends (particularly his nephews, who he is the legal guardian of in this series.) Cast as the one-time close member of Scrooge McDuck’s entourage who accompanied him on his globe-trotting adventure, the two became estranged after a certain key incident, which incidentally thawed itself out in the pilot episode.

A number of other cast members and places prominent in the original series return as well, from a Mrs. Beakley who’s a sultry British ex-spy/super maid in this outing, to Launchpad McQuack, who remains fairly faithful to his original iterations, though perhaps a tad more dimwitted than before. Of course, this also includes Scrooge’s old rogues gallery, from the ever-vengeful Flintheart Glomgold, to the bumbling antics of the Beagle Boys.

Overall, DuckTales was always going to be evaluated largely by not only its art style (which is simply eye-catching with that comic feel), but how it decided to approach these beloved characters in a new way, and overall, it’s not a bad re-framing of the universe with a more modern polish. The more timeless characters are as you’d remember them, though the triplets got a bit of an overhaul that’s notable as well (though using all my thoughts on the characters before the character section of grading would be a waste, wouldn’t it?) Additionally, the show features a nice overarching plot and mystery that no doubt got some influence from the creative team, a number of whom previously worked on Gravity Falls, and like the latter, the show has both an episodic and story arc hybrid sort of episode style going on, with a clear forward time progression. Finally, I will say the finale was a solid cap to the built-up events of the next season and a fine way to wrap up a number of outstanding questions while keeping perhaps the biggest one perfectly intact. As the theme song goes, “life is like a hurricane here in Duckberg.” It most certainly is, and it will be one of the more intriguing questions of 2019 as to where this series goes.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, computer animated. The style of this show is done in a way that emulates classic Scrooge comics a bit, right down to the key character designs, and this influence can also be notably felt in the revamped opening for the show. It’s a style that feel different enough from the original show to feel aesthetically unique, but pleasing, but similar enough that it’s unmistakably DuckTales. A fine job all around. 5/5 points.

Characterization: The thoughts above already encapsulated a wide variety of observations on the main cast of this show, with one major exception: the triplets.

The forever gripe about Huey, Dewey and Louie had been the difficulty in differentiating them as individuals. They also all had the “Donald Duck” voice treatment in most of their iterations, meaning it was often hard to complete understand what they were saying. In a bold, but not completely unexpected move, the creative team decided to overhaul the trio a bit and give them a) design makeovers, b) actual separate voice actors, c) more defined individual personalities, and d) both a strong sense of individuality but also unbreakable brotherhood.

So, to recap: Dewey is the headstrong adventurer of the three, though lacking in common sense at times. He’s the blue t-shirt. Huey is the one who retains the classic outfit with the hat in red, and in this iteration is the smart, nerdy duck. He’s well organized and believes in facts and data, order and planning- and especially if it’s in the Junior Woodchuck manual. Finally, Louie is the cool cat, in the green hoodie and with an appreciation for the finest things in life. He’s got his Uncle Scrooge’s penchant for treasure and the riches of the world, and he’s got a bit of a clever con-man inside him too. Sometimes, the trio can be their own worst enemies, but oftentimes, they make the best team that can overcome any obstacle.

While the story and show isn’t done being written yet, the reimagined DuckTales cast has been not only satisfactory, but rather well-implemented with a charm all their own. The writers do appreciate some references now and again to the original series, so keep your eyes open for the details!

4.5/5 points.

Story: Hybrid of episodic and overarching plot storytelling. As noted initially, this takes some cues from Gravity Falls in all likelihood, especially with the mystery elements, but some credit should also go to the original DuckTales, which occassionally had some mini-arcs on some of Scrooge’s outings, perhaps none more notable or memorable than the feature-length film that was the original’s pilot (and worth 5 episodes!) Within this show though, it’s a nice blend that keeps dramatic tension up nicely while furthering character development all the time, and episodes have good attention to detail of past events and prior happenings as well. Intriguing setup is in place for season 2. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: This show’s about family and the relationships people make, aside from all the adventuring, spelunking and various other (mis)adventures. It’s got a real emotional core in there though, and deals with some pretty complicated stuff within that simple premise, from the strains of being siblings to the dreams and desires of an only child to be part of that, to even an old duck’s regrets and misunderstandings causing very real pain. Don’t be fooled- this show even with its humor and the network(s) it airs on has some real weight in the characters themselves, especially when you key in on the details. It will be fascinating to see how this continues to unfold. 4/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: From the revived classic theme song, to the fast-paced action of the show, and the family-friendly presentation, it makes a good impression in this department. Some of the technology references though could get a bit dated as time goes on, but that’s a minor gripe. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 22.5/25(90%): This may seem like a bit of a high grade for one season of a show with huge expectations, but it was a genuinely enjoyable watch that had a lot to like in its initial relaunch. It’s not a perfect show- nothing is- but it captures the essence of DuckTales supremely well and is a great show in its own right thus far, no strings attached. It’s worth checking it out sometime!

 

On Animation Channels and Decision-Making, Pt. 3: Disney Channel/XD

The House of Mouse’s TV animation has had some big successes.

Welcome to the 3rd part in a mini-series about  networks and their decision-making when it comes to animated shows! In part 2, Nickelodeon was discussed; the network’s unwillingness to part with its past and lack of quality depth has translated to a 2010’s with few major successes. Now it’s time to turn to another archrival who’s arguably coming on stronger than either Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network: Disney.

Just what is in the water at the house that Walt built these days for the animation units? Walt Disney Animation just won their 3rd Oscar in 4 years, and Disney Television animation (which are the people behind the network(s) in question today) are doing incredibly well with their fare on Disney X.D. Gravity Falls was a boon, setting rating records for its finale just over a year ago; Twilight of the Apprentice, the season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels one-upped that, and another show that I just reviewed after its season finale- Star vs. The Forces of Evil– is renewed for a 3rd and 4th season. If all this is news to you, hopefully this look behind the scenes will illustrate the sort of path Disney X.D.’s charting at the moment.

A quick look back at the move into the decade for Disney reveals a network that had done modestly well in animation through the 2000’s, with shows like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long. At this time, the network still split its animated series between flagship station Disney Channel and the smaller Toon Disney; in 2009 the latter was shut down and re-branded as Disney X.D., a decision that would have some major impacts on the animated shows being produced. Speaking of shows, the story for the decade in question begins in 2008, when the network debuted what would both prove to be an anchor show and a transitional one as well- Phineas and Ferb. With the Great Recession hammering the industry- a common thread for all the networks discussed, the show’s strong-creator driven style, consistent quality, and universally strong appeal that performed well in spite of the financial climate meant it would not only be a majorly influential show for the company, but the industry on the whole. What Phineas and Ferb did was start laying the groundwork for a period of animation on TV not seen from the House of Mouse since the early 90’s- and with the potential to surpass it, if it hasn’t already. (Check out my review of Phineas and Ferb for more thoughts!)

The start of the decade saw Disney with an established anchor show (Phineas and Ferb), and one of the earliest offerings was the mediocre Fish Hooks, which despite having a great deal of established and future talent on the staff, such as Tom Warburton (KND/Pepper Ann) and Maxwell Atoms (Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) didn’t ever quite take off. However, the creative director of that show just so happened to jump up to his first show-running job in 2012…Alex Hirsch. And with him came Gravity Falls, the first and biggest in the wave of creator-driven series that have come to define Disney’s television animation in this decade. Interestingly, Gravity Falls started as a Disney Channel original series, but after the debut of its second season (Scary-oke), the series moved its home permanently to Disney X.D., a move that in turn has ignited the growth of what had been (and still is, relatively speaking) a niche network. And the hits kept coming: Dave Filoni, who headed up Star Wars: The Clone Wars launched the successful Star Wars Rebels after the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, where it has become a key show; while 2015 finally said goodbye to Phineas and Ferb, another rose in its place- Daron Nefcy’s Star vs. The Forces of Evil, which apparently the friends of Mickey Mouse love, as it’s already been greenlit for another 2 seasons; and more recently Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh who were behind P&F have started another successful endeavor with Milo Murphy’s Law. Creator driven shows, with strong levels of engagement with their audiences, which in turn are quality shows, has been a winning formula.

Of course, there has been misses, like any studio. The bizzare Pickle and Peanut, headed up by Noah Z. Jones (the same guy behind Fish Hooks) might be chief among these in recent memory, and there’s been quite a few other shows that have been lost to the public eye, if they were ever there to begin with (Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja? Kick Buttowski?) Somehow, I doubt outside of their target audience and hardcore animation nerds that anyone really knows what these shows are, and while Disney has been doing a good job this decade, they’ll need to continue to build depth in order to sustain success. It’s a different problem, but a good one as opposed to some of their competition, and I’d argue one of Disney’s best attributes about their shows (which has been historically true) is that they never run too long. Phineas and Ferb was an exception; 2-3 years tends to be the historical trend, and the animation unit has never gotten too low as a result of consistently overturning their shows for each generation while maintaining a connection to past hits of yesteryear.

2017 continues to look intriguing. The rebooted DuckTales trailer (at the time of this writing) looks incredible, preserving the heart and feeling of the original while giving it a refreshing update and new flair, and the animation is gorgeously unique. Star vs. The Forces of Evili finished its promising second season at the end of February, and Star Wars Rebels continues its 3rd season with a very familiar face to fans of the old Expanded Universe serving as antagonist. The aforementioned Milo’s Murphy Law is off to a good start (and actually stars Weird Al Yankovic as the main character- go figure)  and Disney X.D. specifically has built a bigger viewership base the past few years and more than one show to rely on (and hey, they still do Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb re-runs!) There’s a strong path forward that has been forged; and if this era is looked back on as a golden age of animation in the West, Disney might have a lot to do with that.


Like what you see? Do you know I wrote a Gravity Falls review as well? Leave a comment!

Review: Phineas and Ferb

Oh, the things you can build on a fine summer’s day…

The Lowdown:

Show: Phineas and Ferb

Networks/years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2007-2015

AniB’s thoughts: I think I know what I’m going to write today! First, a quick shout-out to S.G. of Rhyme and Reason for the request. I was going to review  Phineas and Ferb at some point, but your input helped me to fast track an important, influential, and most of all, fun show up the priority list. (And no, I’ve still got Steins;Gate on the list, don’t worry!) Indeed, Phineas and Ferb‘s very essence lies in the two key parts of every episode: what in fact will the titular characters do everyday of their summer vacation, and to that same end, the question can also be asked of the B-plot always involving Agent P (aka Perry the Platypus) and Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. What the writers did with that structure though, is nothing short of incredible.

Phineas and Ferb was a terrifically innovative show that continued to hold its own even after other major Western shows emerged post 2010. It combined a bright color palette mixed tastefully with simple animation that worked quite well, an entire catalog’s worth of original songs from every episode, and a consistency that ensured it saw little drop-off in performance, some 8 years after its debut. The last point in particular was very impressive, as these types of episodic shows (albeit one here  that had a loose canon and constantly self-referenced past events) have an unfortunate tendency to usually fall to “seasonal rot”- the term used for a show that’s still chugging out new episodes long after it should have been put out to pasture. Nickelodeon has two perfect examples- SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly Odd Parents are still airing new episodes in 2017; they are both long past the point of being innovative or even relevant- relics of about 3 eras back. To further illustrate this point, what era are all the SpongeBob memes from? (Hint: try pre-2004.) Even The Simpsons, which most critics tend to fawn over its amazing run in the 1990’s, has become a victim of this symptom; the only animated show still in production on the planet with a starting point in the 1980’s, it’s become staid for what it was. Back to Phineas and Ferb, another major reason it was able to avoid this problem was a creator-driven ending that felt natural, and a simple story structure that allowed major flexibility in where the show-runners could go with it. In that sense, Phineas and Ferb reminded me of Codename: Kids Next Door– it was only a matter of how big and crazy the writer’s ideas could go, all wrapped up neatly when it was time.

The show also contained some pretty great specials; in particular, its parody story of Star Wars was brilliantly done; while the events of the original movie still went on, it was still a uniquely crafted Phineas and Ferb story using the backdrop of Star Wars, with plenty of clever references that even I was surprised how on-point they were- and it worked beautifully! (The best nod had to be that they made fun of Jar Jar unironically. And Greedo shot first.) There was also the Marvel special, and the finale episode it itself was a special. (Kudos to Agent P- somehow after the entire show’s run, Phineas and Ferb never caught onto his secret identity- movie nonwithstanding.) I was often amazed at how clever the writing was in this show, and before Gravity Falls took the mantle of “biggest Disney TV cartoon airing” sometime in 2014 (in my personal opinion), it had been Phineas and Ferb that had really nailed the appeal to all audiences amazingly well. Was it a perfect show? Well, no- but its cultural impact (which isn’t a factor in grading) and precedents it set for other Western animation is undeniable. There’s also a high degree of re-watchability, and the fact that it’s also an extraordinarily easy show to pick up- because it’s also a case of where “simple” is better in animation. On to the grading:


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation. Bright, vibrant and with an unmistakably simple touch, Phineas and Ferb’s animation pops with an eye pleasing color palette and easy character designs that while rather straight forward, are aesthetically pleasing. 4/5 points.
Characterization: Featuring the titular main characters, their big sister Candace, some close friends, Agent P and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, the show had a lovable main cast.

Phineas Flynn is the main protagonist; sporting a tuft of orange hair on top of his pointy head, he is a constantly upbeat boy with a genius intellect and creative mind to match. With his catchphrase (“Ferb, I think I know what we’re going to do today!”) he is the main driver behind all the major inventions seen in the show, which in turn he usually loves to share with his brother, friends, and even strangers depending on the setting.

Ferb Fletcher is Phineas’ stepbrother; he is English and speaks far less frequently, but is very close to the former and also has an intellect and creativity to match. Ferb often ist the one making timely quips, and is a equal partner in all the brothers’ summer endeavors.

Candace Flynn is the biological sister of Phineas and stepsister of Ferb. A typical teenage girl, her favorite activity over the summer is her numerous attempts to “bust the boys,” meaning to catch them in the act of doing something extreme, which as a running gag, always fails (with the exception of one time, but that has a caveat all its own.) She has a major crush on Jeremy Johnson, who in turn sees Candace as a good friend. She’s often seen as paranoid because of her failed busting attempts, but ultimately loves her brothers.

On the flip side, Agent P (aka Perry the Platypus) and Dr. Doofenshmirtz are arch-rivals in the tied in B-plot of every episode. Perry is an anthropomorphic platypus who is in deep cover as the Flynn-Fletcher family’s pet; in reality he’s a secret agent working for the agency O.W.C.A. with the assignment of thwarting Doofenshmirtz. He wears a fedora in action.

Dr. Doofenshmirtz is an incompetent evil scientist who actually makes very effective evil machines (known as “-inators” through the series), but always misapplies his creations, leading to his constant defeat. He’s actually a decent guy and not really that evil; over the series he and Perry actually become “frienemies” of sorts, as their daily routines rely on one another. He also has a daughter (Vanessa).

Finally, Phineas and Ferb have three friends that make consistent appearances: Isabella, a kind, bright girl who leads a Fireside Girls Troop and is their next-door neighbor and best friend; she and Phineas have actual feelings for each other (though it’s in a puppy-love kind of way at this point…), her catchphrase is “Whatcha doing?” (which is actually her first line in the series. Baljeet is an Indian-American boy who absolutely loves school to the point that he signed up for numerous summer classes; he also possesses a genius mind but is very high strung about his grades. Finally there’s Buford; while he’s a self-proclaimed bully, he’s invited along on Phineas and Ferb’s summer adventures to the point that he’s actually good friends with all of them, particularly Baljeet. He’s fa rmore sensitive that his initial appearance and actions suggest, and in a friend group that featured a variety of talented personalities, he’s often the straight man.

The other supporting crew was solid as well; the dual story lines of whatever the brothers were doing alongside Agent P’s and Doofenshmirtz’s exploits made for a very Loony Tunes-esque feel. 4.25/5 points.
Story quality: Episodic, but extremely inventive. The show’s writers did a great job of keeping the formula original through the show’s run, with original scenarios, smart references and allusions, and a savvy sense of humor. The consistency in structure worked to the show’s advantage- and it was a fun exercise to see how the writer riffed on what could have easily become very cliche and boring (i.e. Doofenshmirtz commenting on how he literally expects and waits for Perry every day.) 4/5 points.
Themes: More than anything, Phineas and Ferb focuses on the possibilities of imagination and invention, as well as family, friendship, and the total encapulation of one’s summer vacation. To that end, it’s well done, if not particularly super deep. But it’s sure a lot of fun. 3.75/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: Clever and inventive, Phineas and Ferb is a fun show with no objectionable material. Most impressive was the incredible amount of original scores produced for the show, episode by episode, and it created a slice-of life musical in a lot of ways- very unique! 5/5 points.

 

Total Score: 21/25 (84%): Emerging in a era when the major animation networks experienced a few years of downturn, Phineas and Ferb shone like a bright light. Carrying the torch for Disney Channel until 2015, it has been a critical and commercial success. As a show, it’s certainly a lot of fun and hits the mark; it’s definitely one to check out.


Like what you read? Wondering if your summer vacations can be as crazy as this one? Leave a comment!

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.


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