Twins Dipper and Mabel Pines spend the summer with their Great Uncle Stan in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls. Throughout their stay, the twins and their mismatched gang of companions explore and study the town’s various paranormal happenings. Eventually, they come to learn that perhaps there may be more to these anomalies than meets the eye.
Spoiler Level: High
We’ve all been there: lost among a hot summer night, days blending together as we spiral, spiral, spiral down a strange new line of questionable theoreticals—the Kraken, the Sasquatch, the Mothman. It’s an odd sense of comfort that comes within the conspiratorial discomfort. It’s a feeling of clarity that comes from the unknown. While often campy, or silly, or downright impossible, cryptids still have the narrative capacity to thrust us into an exciting what if…? headspace and invite us into new worlds that rely on the warmth and connections between each of us. They’re stories, and they’re damn good at their jobs.
Although many have tried, few adaptations of cryptids have successfully tapped into this distinct aura of wonder like Disney’s Gravity Falls. Everything about this show lends itself to that very specific feeling of an activated imagination. After only two seasons, fans of the toon were largely saddened by its end and it’s easy to see why; the show’s unique ambiance was intoxicating.
But it is a testament to the strength of the greater story arc that the show only ran for as long as it did. Creator Alex Hirsch is quoted multiple times saying that the show was never designed to extend far past its official end. So often, shows reach their narrative high point in seasons two, three, or four, and then dwindle on for another handful of seasons to an unsatisfying conclusion. Gravity Falls took the opposite approach. Hirsch and his team set out to tell one story: that of summertime siblinghood, first through Mabel and Dipper, then deeper through Stan and his twin brother Ford. After the intended story was fully delivered and the emotional climax was past its peak, the series was brought to a definite and purposeful end.
There was no waiting for renewal. There was no unintentionally unresolved cliffhanger. Just a story, mature in nature, satisfactorily concluded with the same bittersweet end that accompanies the sunny summer season it so lovingly recreated. It’s a rare gift from a creator with a true understanding of storytelling.
In addition to a stellar overarching storyline, the series also shines in the details. Gravity Falls is one of those special shows that not only excels at world building, but utilizes its world as a tool to build its story. Between the colorful cast of characters, the town lore, and the creation of original, modernized cryptids, Gravity Falls, Oregon feels alive. It feels like a person could visit. It brings about a vague familiarity while at the same time introducing audiences to a separate, mystical world in a way that feels comparable to classics like Bridge to Terabithia or Tuck Everlasting.
And to further its alluring wonder, the show engaged audiences with cyphers and puzzles outside of the narrative. Within the title cards and end credits, clues were flashed on the screen for only a few frames at a time. When combined, these clues pointed at aspects of plot, character development, and lore, letting devout fans in on the secrets of the story while simultaneously building up a primary antagonist known as Bill Cypher (a Final Boss character, of sorts). It was a refreshing change of pace in a media culture that was starting to rely on shock—the perfect example of how a story can exhaustively foreshadow its plot and still land the emotional impact.
Wrapped up in appealing animation, and capped by intricate, heartfelt voice acting, Gravity Falls is a prime example of how animation can be used to tell unlikely and deeply captivating stories. Just as much thought went into the technical aspects of the show as went into the narrative. The artistry elevates an already good story and makes it truly great.
Gravity Falls is everything I want more of, but I don’t want more of Gravity Falls. It is a beautifully told story, due in no small part to its definitive end. With all the charm of an episodic adventure series and all of the satisfaction of a grand and dramatic story arc, this show found the sweet spot between emotional payoff and engaging world building. There's no point in the series that makes someone wrinkle their nose, shrug their shoulders, and say "It's not as good as the other episodes." It's a sustained beauty.
Gravity Falls is the late night, midsummer wikipedia rabbit hole, and I invite you all to fall, fall, fall with me right up until the sweet, beautiful end.
Gravity Falls: No More, No Less, Just Right
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 7/107/10
- Production - 9/109/10
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