Nostalgia is a lie. It’s a rose-coloured lens through which we view the past, lingering in the erroneous notion that times long gone were better. However, I do believe childhood summers may just be the exception.
Twins Mabel and Dipper Pines are sent up from California to the town of Gravity Falls in Oregon to stay with their great-uncle “Grunkle” Stan. Grunkle Stan is the embodiment of a con-artist and runs a roadside attraction hut called the Mystery Shack, a funhouse full of fake cryptids and expensive knickknacks. While wandering in the woods one day, Dipper finds… actually you know what? I’m not going to say. This review isn’t going to be one of my most well-structured ones but I personally relished every minute of this show and, given that it has a huge mystery element, I don’t want to ruin anything. This was a show that I didn’t just watch. I lived it with the rest of the characters and fell deeply in love with the whole thing. I want you all to have the same experience I had so I’m going to give out as little as possible.
As a kid, I was fascinated by cryptids, aliens, the paranormal and the supernatural. I spent hours reading everything I could about the Bermuda triangle, the Flatwoods monster, Betty & Barney Hill, the Richmond Drummer Boy, the Green Children of Woolpit, the Moth-man, the Ourang-Medan, the Marie Celeste, the McPherson tapes, Kaspar Hauser and so many more. Most were fascinating, many were terrifying. For years, the thought of travelling to the Bermuda triangle and seeing for myself what was there excited me endlessly. But on the other hand, the thought of seeing the glowing red eyes of the Moth-man peering in through my window at night was unbearable. Gravity Falls channelled that childhood intrigue so perfectly that I sometimes feel like it was made exclusively for me. Not to mention the fact that Mabel is basically an over-the-top animated version of my sister. Even some of her lines are direct quotes of things my sister has said. It’s actually kinda eerie…
Speaking of which, it’s incredibly refreshing to watch the relationship between Mabel and Dipper. A lot of shows in the past (namely 80’s and 90’s sitcoms) pitted family members against each other, assuming that ‘dysfunction’ meant ‘humour’. It may have worked back then but now we’re tired of it. Grunkle Stan even comments in one episode that it’s unnatural for siblings to get along as well as they do. But honestly, I don’t believe it is. My siblings and I have, for the most part, been close our whole lives. And healthy relationships between siblings, family, and friends is what I want to see. None of this ridiculous bickering and in-fighting as a bid for cheap laughs (*cough*BigBangTheory*cough*).
In the past ten years, the world of animation has really taken a bizarre step forward in the greatest way. Hirsch studied at CalArts alongside J.G. Quintel (the Regular Show, Close Enough), Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors), Patrick McHale (Over the Garden Wall) and Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty). These guys frequently collaborate, with McHale serving as a writer on Adventure Time and Roiland voicing characters in Adventure Time and Gravity Falls. The off-beat humour of the shows these guys have made has created a precedent that I hope will endure far into the future.
Funnily enough, this is a very similar story to Gendy Tartakovsky, Rob Renzetti, and Craig McCracken. All three also studied at CalArts in the late 80’s/early 90’s and between them are credited with the creation and development of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and several others. Renzetti was even a producer on Gravity Falls.
Hirsch has put in a ridiculous level of work into his creation. There are multiple codes and messages hidden throughout the series which can be solved using a variety of cryptograms and even a book that ties in with the events of the show. Though perhaps the best thing about Gravity Falls was the international treasure hunt that Hirsch set up so that fans could find… something… I’m seriously not going to say what it was and I strongly recommend that you don’t look it up until after you’ve watched the show or you will ruin literally everything. But once you have watched the show, buy the book and read up about the treasure hunt.
Looking past the delicious mystery and the cool (and often hilarious) creatures, Gravity Falls also presents great role models and messages that aren’t exactly spoken out loud but are presented in a way that I personally feel is very natural. Messages about adulthood, love, feminism, loyalty, and family, just to name a few. I’m not going to get all sugary about it but it is there. There are even LGBT characters, two of which are a couple and while it’s never explicitly spoken aloud, it’s heavily implied.
I realise that I haven’t really spoken about the show as much as I should, especially for a review but I honestly believe that you should go into it knowing as little as possible. I just finished re-watching the series a few hours ago and it’s still raw in my mind and in my heart. As one characters says in the final episode: “I hate my dumb heart for making me feel things!” The show pushes the fact that, while the summer is beautiful and fun and filled with amazing things and people that you’ll never forget and never want to leave, ultimately things do end and you have to grow up. In the words of Marceline the Vampire Queen (and Mitski Miyawaki): “Autumn comes when you’re not yet done with the summer passing by.”
The way I see it though, the day when you have to go home and leave it all behind is already happening. It’s a destination that you just haven’t arrived at yet and soon enough you’ll find yourself there wondering where all the time went. But by the same token, the day when summer begins again is happening right now, you just haven’t arrived there yet.
It never truly ends.
“If you’ve ever taken a road-trip through the pacific north-west, you’ve probably seen a bumper-sticker for a place called Gravity Falls. It’s not on any maps and most people have never heard of it. Some people think it’s a myth. But if you’re curious, don’t wait. Take a trip. Find it. It’s out there in the woods. Waiting…”
P.S. Kristen Schaal who voices Mabel may be the best voice-actor in the history of the world.