Hidden Gems: Gravity Falls
THIS one isn’t so much hidden as it is underrated. For the longest time I’ve been put off from watching Gravity Falls, being sceptical of the Disney Channel since it is the organisation that turned Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers into a thing. “There’s no way they can produce a cartoon show that appeals to both children and adults alike,” my inner narrator says, “This is the Disney Channel, not regular Disney.” Yet, after learning that Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers‘s Louise) was one of the main voice actors, I caved in and decided to try it out. I was completely taken by surprise; this is actually a damn good show.
“Could it be,” my distrustful inner monologue continues, “Have the Disney channel really managed to create a show that is both witty, smart with a coherent and interesting story? A type of show that has the moral capabilities, relatable characters and humour that children can enjoy while retaining a frankly surprisingly complex and well thought-out plot for the grown-ups?’ Alright, Disney Channel, you win this round.
Despite Disney owning Marvel characters, Star Wars, Pixar and, of course, their own famous animation studios, I still can’t help but feel that sliver of shame as The Disney Channel logo pops up before the show begins. I mean, who watches The Disney Channel over the age of 12? Turns out I do. Once you’ve accepted this you can begin to drive straight into the series, as soon as Mickey Mouse Club House is finished (How does Toodles know what items they’d need in the future? I’m on to you, Toodles).
The story centres around a pair of twins, Maple and Dipper, who move out to Gravity Falls for the summer with their great uncle Stan. Stan, the owner of a tourist trap store called The Mystery Shack, has them work in the store. Life is pretty dull until Dipper finds a journal by an unknown author detailing mysterious creatures, relics, hideouts and much more located in Gravity Falls.
There’s genuinely a feeling of the occult and the supernatural throughout the town. The show is probably the closest visual representation of Lovecraftian style one could get for a children’s show. Almost as if a Disney exclusive said, “I want this necronomicon thing but for children; I don’t care how you do it, just do it” and then threw it at someone with talent, that someone being Alex Hirsh who created the short-lived Fishhooks. It’s rare to see a children’s show that can distil actual mystery; there are over-arching questions that I genuinely have no clue how they’re answered, and many episodes have twists that I don’t see coming.
Other than the story, one of the most strongest components of the series is the characters. While many of them exist to fill an archetype – the love interest, the dumb one, the one who moves the plot along – they go beyond their one-note roles to the story and become fleshed out as characters. For example: Wendy, who works in the shop, is clearly meant to be Dipper’s love interest. He chases after her, gets sad when she dates someone else -all that usual stuff – but she does develop an in-depth personality.
After a few scenes you can tell her likes and dislikes, what she’s like as a person. Some may argue that she’s just the combination of current popular tropes in teenage culture and, while I can see where they’re coming from, I would disagree. All the characters feel real and grounded, and to have characters that do feel real in the mist of supernatural events is pretty impressive. Stan serves as the cheap store manager we’ve seen a thousand times, but he has unique quirks. During his interactions with Dipper and Maple, there is an aura of genuine love, something which is quite difficult to convey into a character.
There’s little doubt that Dipper and Maple are the jammy centre of this animation biscuit being dunked into the tea of entertainment. No-one speaks about Maple being a feminist icon like Lisa Simpson or even Tina from Bob’s Burgers has been called, but, like Tina, she’s fleshed out and acts age-appropriate, a surprising attribute to a young heroine it seems. Maple is hilarious, and she’s brought me much laughter from her time on screen and it’s quite obvious that’s what’s she’s there for, and sometimes that does get in the way of her characterisation, but only rarely.
Maple actually acts like a 13 year old; she has a healthy interest in the opposite sex but still retains the charm and quirks of being young. I do have to criticise and point out that her character is nearly identical to that of Louise, but replaces some the energetic chaos with wit.
Dipper is what more kid’s shows should have as a main protagonist. In many shows, the young main characters been these brave, destined for greatness, do-no-wrong kind of guys; Dipper, however, much like Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender, is grounded with personality. He does get scared, he doesn’t always do the right thing and he does fail. When Dipper fails I feel so happy about it; an important lesson that many shows aimed at the young forget is that it’s okay to fail, events are not always going to go the way you want it to and that’s okay, learn from your mistakes.
I’ve mentioned many times that it’s a show aimed at a younger audience – there’s no getting around that – but much like Adventure Time, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Regular Show, good solid story-telling is not age exclusive, nor is enjoyable humour only for the young. Ignore the fact where it comes from and who it’s for and give it a try. It’s certainly worth it.
You can follow Sam on Twitter.