Why must the good cartoons end so early? Yes, recently, we saw the end of Gravity Falls, possibly one of the best Disney cartoons ever – hell, probably one of the best cartoons period. I only got into the series relatively late (in fact, I started watching the show during it’s Season 2 hiatus) but I feel like I’ve been with it since the beginning. From the very first episode, something about it resonated with me and now that it’s over, there’s an empty hole that needs to be filled by another high quality show (ironic considering I only started watching Gravity Falls because Legend of Korra had ended).
So, since Gravity Falls celebrated its end with one hell of a final episode, I want to celebrate it too in my own way – by explaining why it’s so good and hopefully convince you to watch it if you haven’t already.
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Gravity Falls sees 12-year old twins Dipper and Mabel Pines being sent to a small Oregon town called, well, Gravity Falls to spend their summer vacation. There, they live with their great-uncle Stan (or Grunkle Stan, as they call him), a con-artist who runs a tourist trap called the Mystery Shack – one of those places that sells random crap to people with more money than sense.
It looks like it’ll be a very boring summer until Dipper accidentally finds a strange journal in the woods; a journal that documents all manner of monsters, paranormal activity and just plain weirdness that supposedly exists in Gravity Falls. The journal is unfinished, however, and one particular page hauntingly reads “TRUST NO ONE.” It’s not long until Dipper and Mabel encounter said weirdness and the two make it their mission to uncover the secrets of Gravity Falls, including the identity of the journal’s author.
This is easily the biggest aspect of Gravity Falls – it’s mystery. Right from the get-go, we are presented with a core question that needs to be answered: who is the author? But it doesn’t stop there. Several other elements are presented to the audience that raise other questions and open up other possibilities. When this show was first airing, fans everywhere would get together to discuss what secrets they could uncover in the latest episode. And trust me, there were a lot of secrets.
It wasn’t just what was shown to us during the story or what characters would say; even the background would be peppered with recurring symbols or codes that could be deciphered. These codes would even appear during the end credits, either as cute gags related to the episode or as ominous foreshadowing. People would lose their minds deciphering these codes – there’s even a handy website that can help with that right here.
Gravity Falls managed to create a community all of its own because of this mystery element, though I wouldn’t recommend reading up on theories since, with the show over, we have all the answers. That being said, as a first time viewer, you can uncover the mystery on your own terms. Do you watch every episode multiple times to try and figure things out or do you just take it as it comes and save the surprises for later? It’s some pretty deep stuff for what is ultimately a kids show.
Not to mention how well it handles the mystery. When the first episode ended, I couldn’t help but have a tiny feeling of dread. This show had set up several questions that needed answers, but what if we never got them? What if this show dragged it out for as long as humanly possible? What if it would only ask more questions that provided no answers at all until it got to the point where the mystery became so convoluted that the answer no longer mattered, because we didn’t care anymore? Without spoiling anything, this is not what happened.
Do more questions come up? Yes, but they are the result of discovering new pieces of information. Something will happen that will make you go “Oh, that explains that. But then how does this happen? Where will this go?” Answers beget more questions, which is, for my money, the best way to handle a mystery story.
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Of course, Gravity Falls may not have achieved this kind of popularity on mystery alone. The residents of this weird, backwater town certainly help. The first episode introduces us to the show’s core cast and they are instantly likable in their own ways.
You have Dipper, who is very much the brains of the outfit. He loves a good mystery and is arguably the only one who really cares about uncovering Gravity Falls’ many secrets. He’s a bit vanilla in terms of overall personality but that’s a result of him being the straight man to nearly everyone else. A lot of the comedy is derived from how he reacts to everyone else. He’s not a boring protagonist by any means and he gets plenty of great character moments later on.
And then you have Mabel. You know how some parents describe their kids as having “personality?” Mabel has that in spades and she instantly became one of my favourite characters ever by the halfway point of the first episode. She’s just so energetic and is rarely seen without a smile on her face. Almost all of her screen time looks like she’s on a sugar rush but nope, she’s just happy. Friendly, outgoing and always dreaming about how perfect her future boyfriend will be (she hits on nearly every guy throughout the show); she’s sort of like a representation of childhood innocence, and other characters and events make numerous attempts to try and break her. Mabel’s the kind of person who rarely gets upset, but when she is, it hurts to watch and you end up feeling just as sad.
Just to briefly go off on a tangent, Dipper and Mabel’s relationship very much forms the crux of the show and is arguably the best part about it. Alone, the two can be entertaining enough but it’s when they’re together that the show really shines. I feel like some shows (particularly kids shows) don’t really focus on sibling relationships that much, and when they do it’s only for a single episode about the importance of family or something. Characters have siblings but they’re barely acknowledged and simply given the title of “annoying older sibling” or “annoying younger sibling.” But Gravity Falls doesn’t do that.
Do Dipper and Mabel get on each others nerves once in a while? Oh God yes. There are episodes dedicated to how strained their relationship can get. But they’re also best friends. The two have been together their entire lives and neither of them can really be apart from the other for too long. They help balance each other out and are always the first to support the other and provide emotional support in their own ways. They’re complete polar opposites but they get along so well, having their own in-jokes and messing about like kids do. It’s both an accurate and idealised portrayal of a sibling relationship. I’d love to have a twin sister I could get along with.
Going back to the rest of the main cast, we have the aforementioned Grunkle Stan. Stan is a crook. He lies, cheats, steals, is incredibly selfish, greedy and grumpy… yet he’s one of the best characters. He’s one of those characters whose antics would shock and horrify us in real life, but since he’s a cartoon, they become incredibly entertaining. It’s almost impressive the lengths he goes to in order to acquire money. Plus, the show establishes very early on that he’s not a ‘bad’ person. He soon becomes very attached to his great niece and nephew and gets plenty of moments in the spotlight.
And then there’s the Mystery Shack’s only two employees – Soos and Wendy. The former is very much comic relief but he bucks the trend of being either the ‘dumb comic relief’ or the ‘cowardly comic relief.’ If anything, he’s one of the bravest characters in the show, even if he’s just a simple handyman. While he doesn’t always have his priorities straight and tends to overlook things, he acts almost like a second guardian to the kids and looks out for them. Much like Mabel, it’s very easy to like Soos for his loyalty.
Wendy, on the other hand, is the typical ‘cool teenager’ that we all wished we were friends with when we were kids. She’s rebellious, loves to party and hates work; she runs the risk of being very generic and, honestly, she does very little in the first season. Dipper develops a crush on her very quickly and most (if not all) of her appearances revolve around Dipper dealing with said crush or trying to impress her. Season 2 makes up for it by giving her more stuff to do.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is meant to be spoiler-free, I’d have probably written a lot more on these characters alone, and I haven’t even got into all the side characters. You’re bound to find at least one favourite amongst Gravity Falls’ oddball residents. Some personal highlights include crazy hermit Old Man McGucket, the incompetent cops Blubs and Durland and spoiled rich girl Pacifica Northwest.
And then there’s all the monsters and the like that the twins encounter. One of the joys of watching this show is seeing what crazy creature shows up next. It’s like a kid-friendly X-Files, with the monsters ranging from your usual fare like zombies and witches to far more bizarre entities. Some examples include the manotaurs (no, I didn’t spell it wrong) and a haunted pinball machine.
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I think what I love most about this show, though, is how varied its tone is. For the most part, it’s a comedy. A really funny, somewhat oddball comedy about a pair of twins dealing with all manner of supernatural creatures that can be easily enjoyed by kids and adults (seriously, there are so many jokes that only people who grew up in the 80s will get). But within the space of a single episode, it can also be heartfelt with some genuine messages and advice for children, or it can be depressing and make you want to rip your own heart out so you can stop feeling emotion. Oh, and it can be terrifying. I know I said earlier that it’s a kid-friendly X-Files but some of the monsters that appear are made of nightmare fuel. Honestly, the scariest thing about this show is how much Disney allowed the writers and animators to get away with.
Gravity Falls is very much the kind of show I loved to watch growing up. One that had an ongoing story, one that made you feel like you were part of the adventure, one you couldn’t afford to miss a single episode of because then you’d be behind and confused. The kind of kids show that I honestly don’t see a lot of anymore. Maybe that’s why it resonated with me so well – it captured my own youth in a slightly different way.
That’s one of the show’s main themes – being a kid and enjoying summer vacation. And just like summer vacation, it came to an end. While I would’ve loved to see Gravity Falls go on for a bit longer, I respect the creator, Alex Hirsch’s, decision to end it before it became a hollow shell of itself. If it went on forever, it kind of would’ve gone against one of the core messages of the show, which I unfortunately can’t go into detail about because spoilers.
If you’ve read this far and still aren’t convinced to binge watch the show right now, I don’t know what to say. But hopefully, this will be the push you need to jump in and maybe fall in love with it like so many others. As for Alex Hirsch and everybody involved, I can only thank them so much for creating one of my newest favourite cartoons and I look forward to see what madness they create next.
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