When my sister and I were looking for a new show to hopefully obsess over this past summer, I remember saying, “It’s a cartoon, on Disney Channel, but I hear good things about 'Gravity Falls.'” We went in skeptical. Little did we realize upon starting the first episode that the show would be so hilarious, so emotional, or hit so close to home for us. Like I said, we were looking for something to have fun with for a few months— what we got was that and so much more.
"Gravity Falls" tells the story of 12-year-old twins Mabel and Dipper Pines as they spend the summer before their last year of middle school in the small, cryptic town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, living with their Great Uncle (“Grunkle”) Stan in his backwoods tourist trap, the Mystery Shack. After discovering an anonymous journal in the woods by the Shack, full of details about the mysteries surrounding the town—from gnomes to an omnipotent dream demon—the twins set out to uncover the town’s secrets for themselves.
Without exaggeration, I can say that Gravity Falls is a masterpiece in and of itself. The music fits seamlessly into each episode, and the theme song manages to perfectly match the feel of the show. The show is also as clever as it is visually stunning (the backdrops, color schemes, and especially the lighting are all phenomenal). Every episode has hidden messages, like codes and symbols, that can be sought out and deciphered. Even the finest details are there for a purpose — nothing is an accident or the result of lazy writing or animation. In addition, the humor is smart and poignant without the need for vulgarity. Anyone can do adult humor; it takes intelligence to be hilarious and clean.
Aside from the fun summer antics (like putting on a puppet show to help Mabel impress a boy, discovering the conspiracy of a secret eighth-and-a-half president of the United States, or road tripping to help Stan sabotage his tourist trap competitors), "Gravity Falls" is a story about letting yourself grow and embrace change, while never truly growing up and losing that bit of magic being a child entails. It’s a story about trusting that your family — blood or not — will be right there with you through it all.
I fell in love with the story like one might fall into the Mystery Shack’s bottomless pit — abruptly, probably unthinkingly, and with no end in sight. It reminded me of my own childhood, spending summers in our family home in Upstate New York and hoping we’d find buried treasure if we dug enough, or snag definitive proof of Bigfoot if we spent enough time in the woods. My closeness with my older sister and our obsession with the mysterious deeply parallels that of the Pines twins — even our personalities lined up (I’m the weird, sticker-loving ham like Mabel, and she’s the levelheaded researcher like Dipper). It was refreshing to see a show that depicted siblings as best friends, like us, instead of constantly bickering and merely tolerating each other's existence.
It was the show’s message itself, though, that landed extra close to my heart.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a fear of change — of people growing up and growing apart, and of leaving the joy and safety of childhood behind forever and not knowing what lies ahead. When it hit me that this was my last full summer vacation with my sister before she left for grad school, I experienced what I like to think of as a quarter(-ish) life crisis. I didn’t know how to handle the idea that we would never have a real summer vacation again, and was terrified of the abyss that lay ahead. Add in my 20th birthday, and it felt like my childhood was finally and completely over.
The fact that in "Gravity Falls," Mabel (a character I relate to more than any other character I’ve ever encountered) was experiencing the same big life change that I was — embracing “growing up,” despite our age difference — really resonated with me, and helped me come to terms with change.
Everything has to end, but then again, nothing ever truly does. And even when you’re apart or you don’t see eye to eye, your family is always right there with you.
I said it once, and I’ll say it again: "Gravity Falls" is a work of art. The story world creator Alex Hirsch has crafted is so full of depth, intricacy, and complex characters, it rivals most shows geared towards adults. And I mean that. There’s a misconception that writing for kids is easy, when it’s actually the exact opposite. When you’re writing for kids, you’re also writing for the adults who will be watching with them, and pleasing literally all ages is a daunting feat many would write off as impossible. Further, shows like this are the foundation today’s kids will grow up on. What current college kid doesn’t think nostalgically about how characters like Kim Possible, Jimmy Neutron, and Arthur Read embodied our youth and helped make us who we are today?
The summer I spent in Gravity Falls changed me for the better. I think of it when I listen to the theme song as I get ready in the morning. I think of it when I see my stuffed pig — “Waddles” — sitting at the foot of my dorm room bed, wearing by pine tree-studded hat. I think of it every time my sister and I both come home on the same weekend and I see that even though things are different, they’re still just as good.
So thank you, Alex Hirsch, as well as all the voice actors, composer, artists, and writers involved in making this show a reality, for creating something that touched my heart and will stay with me forever. If today’s kids are being shaped by a story as heart wrenching, elaborate, and profound as "Gravity Falls," then I have a lot of faith in the future.