I was drawn to Gravity Falls the moment I heard the eerie music during the show’s creepy title sequence. After watching a few episodes, I knew I was doomed to like the show, and very convinced that its creator, Alex Hirsch (Fish Hooks, Misadventures of Flapjack), had shadowed me and my friends as children as we searched the wilderness for evidence of local legends.
Unlike me and my friends, Dipper and Mabel Pines find them, whether they want to or not. The Pines twins are sent away from home to spend the summer getting some “fresh air” in the wilderness of Oregon a their Great Uncle (grunkle) Stan’s Mystery Shack; one part cheesy sideshow and one part creepy novelty gift store. Amid Fijian mermaids, Jackalopes and “Sascrotch”, they find real creatures and real mystery. With the help of an old journal hinting at the strangeness of Gravity Falls, they deal with lonely forest gnomes, the vengeful spirits of elderly store clerks, and child psychic evangelists. At the same time, the Pines also deal with the usual trials of childhood, such as awkward attempts at summer romance, spending time with weird relatives, and finding a way to tolerate your sibling.
The real secret to Gravity Falls is the presentation. The show has a fun, but distinctly creepy vibe to it, capturing the feeling of spending a summer in a strange new place. It has plenty of juvenile humor and nonsense, but it also has a bit of maturity and wit about it. It isn’t afraid to make fun of itself when it gets too serious, or too childish. It can also be unexpectedly poignant at times, especially when Dipper and Mabel deal with things that don’t have teeth, such as unrequited love and sibling rivalry.
The characters are a lot of fun; not too static or over-the-top with their personalities. Dipper is mature for his age and can be a bit serious, but he’s not immune to the perils and temptations of childhood. Mabel is a goofball and an optimist, but she’s not nearly as oblivious as she seems. The side characters are pretty standard, but they all have redeeming qualities. Stan is a fraud and money hungry, but he genuinely cares for his niece and nephew. Handyman Soos seems like the average “dumb guy”, but he is oddly observant, and his matter-of-fact attitude about the strangeness in Gravity Falls is often helpful. Wendy Corduroy is the typical too-cool-for school teen, but she’s not mean to Dipper or Mabel, and treats them with respect. Which is something the characters in this show do that I don’t see a whole lot; they seem to actually care about each other. There is rivalry, jealousy, misunderstandings, and good-natured ribbing, but it isn’t the constant string of put-downs and general meanness you see in a lot of T.V. at all age groups.
The show has a pretty high production value, too. It is obvious Hirsch and his team put some effort into Gravity Falls. The voice acting is good, with Kristen Schaal and Jason Ritter voicing the twins. Often it is the way a line is said as much as what is said that gets me laughing. Plenty of things are going on in the background too, something I love in a cartoon. Secret codes and whispers hint at things to happen, or refer to things that have happened in previous episodes. There are lots of references too, from current pop culture phenomenon, to older stuff. Mabel belts out alternative lyrics to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (Don’t Start Unbelieving) and hopes her bizzare new boyfriend’s dark secret is that he’s a vampire. Dipper befriends characters from a Street Fighter rip-off, and one sequence of animation looks to be ripped from something like Gem. Some of these references, and sometimes the dialog, is pretty adult-friendly too. Kids are going to have a hard time understanding jokes about the Soviet Union, or see the resemblance to evangelist politicians in Little Gideon (right down to the flag on the tour bus and lapel pin). They’re certainly not going to know a wax figure of Larry King (described as some sort of “goblin man”) when they see one.
For people who are not me, it suffices to say Gravity Falls is definitely one of those shows fit for children of “all ages”. For people who are like me, I must add it also has a distinct 90’s nostalgia about it. A nostalgic feeling for people, like me, who grew up watching shows like Eerie Indiana and Unsolved Mysteries. People who spent the summers outside exploring the wilderness and making new friends at home, at the cabin, or at summer camp. People who would have given a whole year’s allowance for a real picture of Bigfoot, or a really cool grappling hook.