In animated comedy series Gravity Falls, tween twins Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to spend the holidays with their loud and grouchy great-uncle "Grunkle" Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon, where he runs a tourist trap (you know, one of those kitschy roadside attractions) called The Mystery Shack. It’s the best holiday ever, because Gravity Falls is a weird town, full of eccentric citizens, supernatural creatures and unexplained phenomena thanks to it being an ancient UFO crash landing site… and the Mystery Shack has been pretty well named.
“When I was a kid ,I would spend these long, long summers out in the woods with my great aunt out in a cabin with my sister, and my great aunt would say, ‘Alright, three hours of reading time,’ and lock us in a room. Because there was so much sensory deprivation, my imagination had to grow to fill the empty space. I imagined that I was beating gnomes or fighting aliens or searching for the Loch Ness monster. With this series, there’s a chance to give a fictionalised version of myself all of those wishes I wished would come true,” says series creator Alex Hirsch.
Still on the fence? Here’s why you should punch your ticket to the show
Alex had specific rules for the show’s writers to keep Dipper and Mabel’s relationship fun and rewarding for everyone to watch. The characters are based on Alex himself and his twin sister Ariel. “The reason Mabel has a pet pig named Waddles is because my twin sister always dreamed of having a pet pig when we were growing up, and made a pig shrine of pig objects in her room,” he reveals. On the show, the twins have distinct personalities and strengths that pay off throughout the adventures they go on. In Alex’s words…
The kids like each other. No matter how much they get on each other's nerves, this never changes.
Mabel isn’t stupid. She's a ham! There's a big difference. Mabel's love of goofing off is a natural force of her personality, but she can still understand when people she cares about need help or are in danger. Don't just make her a catchphrase machine. She really cares about the people around her. (Secret: Mabel is quietly jealous that her brother is better academically than she is)
Dipper is smart but he's not a "walking calculator". There's a lot of kids shows featuring a character who is "the brains". You know the guy. Thick glasses, nasal voice, often starts every sentence with "According to my calculations!” (Dipper is not that guy). Dipper is better academically than Mabel, but he's also able to laugh at himself. He's a real kid. He has insecurities. He has things that he loves. I try not to pigeonhole these characters into one type. They lose their humanity if you do that. (Secret: Dipper is jealous that Mabel is better socially than he is)
They've known each other forever. They should occasionally finish each other’s sentences. They should recognise when one of them is about to do something they always do. They should reference past inside jokes. They should get instantly angry at each other and then instantly make up, the way people who've known each other forever do.
They get more close in unfamiliar situations (because they need each other) and less close in familiar situations (because they don't as much). The entire summer is an unfamiliar situation, and it's helping them bond.
Dipper wants to grow up too fast. Mabel doesn't.
On that note, Alex explains, “Mabel is a lot smarter than anyone gives her credit for, and she knows in her core that Dipper's quest for maturity is, in itself, immature. So whenever he takes himself too seriously, it is her duty to knock him down a peg. If Dipper is just relaxing and having a good time, Mabel will not give him any harassment. The moment he starts getting too big for his britches, she starts acting intentionally dumb and goofy to get him to take himself less seriously and chill out a little bit.”
While Alex made the show specifically for Disney, which meant working with their standards and censors, beyond that he didn’t make a show “for kids”. He just made the kind of show he’d want to watch himself. “Literally, the whole thing is just us trying to make the funniest thing we can for ourselves. It's always like that. I think I myself am sort of a weird manchild, and so if I like something, there's a good chance that it will appeal to both men and children simply by virtue of being made by somebody who is sort of in that strange in-between space. I find that you get the best result if you just try to make yourself laugh and not worry about what other people think,” says Alex. “I grew up on The Simpsons, and The Simpsons was what showed me as a kid that animation could be as smart and funny as live-action and sometimes smarter and funnier.”
Mythology, mystery & continuity
It’s not a “rando show”. Gravity Falls is going somewhere over the course of its two seasons. While each episode is enjoyable to watch on its own, strung together – especially as they are now on Disney XD this June – they make up one story that makes sense. Mystery hunting kids will have plenty of trails and clues to follow thanks to well-thought-out foreshadowing. Continuity is key and background characters aren’t just hanging around – they’re doing things that will have an impact later in the episode or season. One background character who keeps popping up during important scenes is actually some kind of time cop, who’s repairing all the temporal paradoxes that Mabel and Dipper are accidentally causing with the meddling in Gravity Falls. Viewers will be able to connect the dots about who Dipper’s crush Wendy’s dad really is thanks to some fleeting shots of matching photographs shown in different episodes.
There are even classic word puzzles, codes and keys scattered throughout the episodes, particularly in the opening and end credits. Kids might want to keep track of anything they decode that refers to Grunkle Stan. “I think as a kid I was spoilt by shows for an older audience that wouldn't forget their own canon, and then I'd watch shows from my own age group and be like, ‘Why do they think I can't remember this?’ I think things like Harry Potter have shown us that kids, if given a reason to pay attention, will memorise a thousand character names and their family lineages if you only let them,” says Alex.
Gravity Falls TV!
Dipper and Mabel exist in a world where everyone watches TV, which not only helps it to feel more real, it gives us a host of off-the-wall shows we wish we could see in real life, too. “I love TV because it’s a caricatured version of reality. So a TV show in a TV show should be a caricature of that caricature. It’s a fun chance to write the really dumb jokes that would break the reality of the normal show,” says Alex. Now flip through some of the channel highlights from the series…
Duck-Tective. A Victorian-era cop show in which the lead Sherlock Holmes-style detective is an actual duck. He’s clearly thinking like a person, and gives all the right dramatic reactions, but he speaks in quacks, with English subtitles.
Tiger-Fist. A Bionic Woman-style action show about a tiger who was injured in an explosion and subsequently given a bionic human arm.
Why You Ackin’ So Cray-Cray? A confrontational daytime talkshow on which one specific, provocative question is asked.
Baby Fights. A cage match show in which two babies are placed in a cage and prodded with sticks until they turn violent against one another.
Grandpa The Kid. A Western serial featuring a grizzled frontier hero who is “tried during the day”.
The Old Lady Boring Movie channel: An entire channel of black-and-white period dramas with titles like The Duchess Approves, starring the likes of Sturly Stembleburgiss and Grampton St. Rumpterfrabble.
World’s Most Terrifying Skydiving. Guess what this one’s about. We dare you.
Watch all 40 episodes of Gravity Falls this June on Saturdays on Disney XD (DStv 304) between 12:30 and 14:30