Late last year, I started watching Rick and Morty. I quickly decided that this was one of the most hilarious programs I’d ever seen. As I read more about it, I kept hearing that there was another similar show called Gravity Falls. The big difference between the two? Gravity Falls was a kid’s show.
I’m always hesitant to start watching a new show; as a vet student in the middle of clinical rotations I don’t have a ton of free time. But I am trying to get my own kids’ show picked up, so I’m willing to learn from the best children’s programs out there. Last weekend I found myself with a bit of time, so I decided to check out a couple episodes of Gravity Falls. That rapidly morphed into a near obsession and me devouring the rest of the first season in four days.
I can say, unequivocally, that Gravity Falls is one of the finest kids’ shows to ever air and is probably the strongest in the genre on TV right now. This show has absolutely everything that I admire in children’s programming and hope one day to emulate. I could easily spend the rest of the night outlining every single aspect of this show that I adore, but I only have the time to focus on the four biggest reasons I love this show. Without further ado, here they are.
Characters That Care for Each Other
You want to know when I realized how much I loved Gravity Falls? When I paid close enough attention to the theme song to notice this.
That little smile the animators made a point of throwing in sums up the strongest aspect of this show. Mable and Dipper may fight sometimes, but their default is loving each other. Pretty much every cartoon that has ever existed plays up sibling conflict; this show makes a point to portray how incredible that familial bond can actually be. Alex Hirsch dared to do something different when he created Gravity Falls; he wanted to show how important family and friends were to kids watching. I think that’s a beautiful message, but it also serves another purpose.
This decision results in every character feeling real. A huge part of that is that there is never any conflict just for conflict’s sake. The crew behind this show never have any of the core cast turn on each other just to create drama or a story; every line of dialogue feels true to who these people are. You know how every awful romantic comedy relies on miscommunication that could easily be resolved if its protagonists weren’t hateful idiots?
This is bad chick flick incarnate.
Gravity Falls is the complete opposite of that. The characters in this show have no problem with letting others know how they feel. They admit they care and admit when someone hurts them, just like real people do. That means when there is conflict it’s real and earned, and when Mable and Dipper show they truly love each other it’s like a gut-punch to the heart.
So just a heart-punch? I don’t know, I’m crying too much to care.
It’s really hard to properly analyze and review a show’s jokes or style of humor. It’s not just because humor is subjective, it’s also that breaking down a gag to the sum of its parts tends to rob it of its appeal. But I’ll do my best.
Gravity Falls consistently makes me laugh out loud. For a kids’ show on Disney, I’m amazed at how many different types of comedy they utilize. I think that’s one of the reasons Gravity Falls is as funny as it is; you just never know what to expect. One minute you’ll get some brilliant character-based humor (often bolstered by Kristen Schaal’s inherent hilarity)…
“Take me with you.”
The next you’ll see the most random commercial in your life…
“Feel your pig’s heartbeat next to yours!”
Then you’ll wrap things up with a bit of melodrama mixed with some awesome music.
This show is smartly written, wonderfully voiced, and brilliantly animated. Combine that with never knowing what type of joke will be thrown at you and you’ve got a winner.
Incredibly Mature Atmosphere
I am a firm believer that children are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. People think we need to talk down and protect our kids, that they can’t handle all of life’s cruelties and complexities. But I remember 12 years ago, when I was Dipper and Mable’s age. I remember my parents refusing to answer my questions about the world because they didn’t think I could handle the answers. I remember how awful it felt to constantly be told I was becoming a young man yet feeling like my voice didn’t matter. Less serious but no less aggravating was watching a show made for someone my age and feeling a lack of any consequence or danger. Why was I supposed to become invested in a show’s characters or world when I felt they were talking down to me like the rest of society?
All that did was drive me to shows that respected me.
Gravity Falls shares in this philosophy and ramps it up to eleven. They pull off things in this show I can’t believe Disney ever let through.
Multiple episodes have proven Gravity Falls does not give a damn about killing sentient beings.
This was from the third episode of Gravity Falls, and in it:
- A bunch of living wax figures legitimately try to murder Gruncle Stan.
- The phrase “I decapitated Larry King,” is spoken.
- Multiple living, conscious wax sculptures are burnt alive.
When I watched the above scene on the roof, logically I knew that the main character of the show, a 12 year-old child, wasn’t going to be stabbed to death. But after seeing all of that crazy stuff above and watching Dipper get violently kicked, for a split second I couldn’t help but believe that anything was possible. That is a sign of brilliant children’s programming; it avoids going too far and legitimately traumatizing its audience, but it refuses to pull punches and shows respect for its viewers.
Gravity Falls is full of moments like these. It seemed like every episode I dropped my jaw in disbelief that Disney would let this air.
“Studies show that keeping a ladder inside the house is more dangerous than a loaded gun. That’s why I own 10 guns…in case some maniac tries to sneak in a ladder!”
This all culminated in Gravity Fall’s season one finale being one of the darkest things I’ve ever viewed.
(Minor Spoiler Alert.)
No, no one died and in the end the day was saved. But throughout the episode, I just kept glancing at the clock and thinking to myself, “There’s no way this can end happily before time’s up.” Prior to this ep, Gideon had taken over the Gruncle Stan’s business. For the first half of this finale, Mable and Dipper did everything they could to win the Mystery Shack back, but their plans just kept failing. Each loss visibly ate away at them, and it culminated in them being sent away from their new home in one of the series’ most beautiful and haunting shots.
There were only ten minutes left to go, these characters had lost everything, and they’d given up. I knew a second season of this show existed, but the Gravity Falls’ crew was so committed to telling a beautiful story that rose to its audience that I believed, for once, the good guys might not win. It made the finale a beautiful thing to watch and the kids’ ultimate victory all the sweeter.
I hope more kids’ show continue the trend that Avatar and Gravity Falls have set by trusting kids to be able to handle stories like these.
It Captures What It’s Like to be a Kid
It’s hard to write kids well. All the writers on Gravity Falls have long left childhood behind, and that makes it just plain difficult to get a good grasp on how kids talk, act, and feel. Too often you’ll watch shows where kids are miniature adults or just seem alien because they’re not acting quite like their age. But when a show gets this right, when the kids act they their real-life counterparts do? It earns the respect of any children watching and cripples the adult audience with a euphoria-inducing wave of nostalgia.
Gravity Falls captures its child and teenage characters perfectly. Twelve year-old Mabel is obsessed with boys, sleepovers, and getting her first kiss, but she’s also occasionally crippled with bouts of self-doubt and loneliness. Dipper struggles to find a balance between savoring the last months of his childhood while yearning to be treated like an adult. Wendy’s teenage friends are hesitant to hang out with twelve year-olds, but they aren’t cruel and are willing to tolerate their presence.
Except Robbie. He’s just a jerk.
There are plenty of instances that show how well the team behind Gravity Falls still understand what it’s like to be a child and teenager, but I think the best example is Dipper’s crush on Wendy.
Everything about this relationship is handled perfectly. Dipper is three years younger than Wendy and admits on several occasions that he knows he doesn’t really have a chance with her. But that knowledge isn’t enough to shake his crush. The dichotomy that these feelings bring; the joy at the prospect of being with her combined at the sorrow he so often experiences when he realizes it won’t work, paint two beautiful sides of crushes like these that every preteen goes through.
Only a great show can have a moving heart to heart conversation between a boy and his clone about young love.
I love how Wendy treats this relationship just as much. She hints several times that she knows the extent of Dipper’s feelings, and it’s fairly obvious that if Dipper was just a little older he would have a serious shot with her. But in spite of how awkard this must be for her, she still truly cares for Dipper and deeply cares about their friendship. It’s really a brave choice to make this fifteen year-old girl so willing to be real friends with someone three years her junior; it’s a route I doubt any other show would have taken.
Lastly, I love how Dipper is the one Wendy interacts with the most in the show. They’re constantly hanging out, talking, or just playing around in the background. This goes a huge way in showing that this isn’t just some immature, fleeting crush Dipper has; he truly does care about Wendy. That makes their friendship so much more meaningful and their inability to be together that much more heartbreaking. There’s is a complex, refreshing, and rewarding dynamic that shows how brilliantly the Gravity Falls team handles portraying the complexities of growing up.
I haven’t even really delved into the fluid animation, incredibly composed music, fascinating mythos, dozens of hilarious supporting characters, or any of the other myriad ways that Gravity Falls is worthy of your attention. No one has that much time on their hands. The only other thing I can do is share my reaction when I discovered this show.
In the best way possible.
The first season of Gravity Falls gets a 9.5 / 10 – Amazing