Gravity Falls, the popular Disney Channel animated series that explored a variety of genre tropes in its own cartoonish ways, has aired its final episode after four years and two seasons. Yeah, chock the lengthier-than-expected run of the show up to Disney’s bizarre release schedule that extended the time between episodes to multiple months. Still, Gravity Falls was one of the best examples of the modern animated cable series renaissance of the 2010s, managing to not only entertain kids and adults alike with its clever gags and endearing characters, but also create a genuine universe and continuity that kept its audience invested even as things got weirder and weirder. While not as complex a web as something like Adventure Time or as groundbreaking with its treatment of social issues as a Steven Universe, Gravity Falls had a leg up in unsuspectedly building a sense of mystery to its titular town and its inhabitants and managed to do so within the limited span of 40 episodes.
Since this site isn’t likely feature the general target audience for the show, I’ll refrain from extensive spoilers. But just as a catch up for the premise; Gravity Falls is our setting, a small woodland town in Oregon known for strange happenings. Our main characters are twin twelve year old siblings Dipper (voiced by Jason Ritter) and Mabel Pines (voiced by Kristen Schall) who are shipped off by their parents to spend the summer with their “Grunkle” (re: Great Uncle) Stan (voiced by series creator Alex Hirsch). Stan is a scheming con artist who runs The Mystery Shack, a curiosity shop filled with fake creatures, disappointed customers and its two employees Soos (also voiced by Hirsch) the lovable doof of a handyman and Wendy (voiced by Linda Cardellini) the cool teenage tomboy who Dipper has a major crush on. While exploring in the forest during the first episode “Tourist Trapped”, Dipper finds a cryptic journal with a 3 on the front, indicating two other tombs that also elaborate on the bizarre goings on of Gravity Falls, which Dipper tries to find while juggling Mabel’s rambunctious behavior and Grunkle Stan’s money making schemes.
The paranormal events that our heroes faced off against were diverse to say the least. A colony of gnomes, time traveling warriors, ancient ghosts, zombies, presidential government cover ups, anthropomorphized animals, sea monsters and inter-dimensional beings. The latter ended up being the biggest threat to our characters, culminating in a massive stand off of a finale between the citizens of Gravity Falls and Bill Cipher, a character modeled after the Illuminati symbol with a top hat and cane that evoked a certain sly used car salesman style charm without ever forgetting the threat of his cosmic God nature. He’s just one of many examples of why the show had such a cross generational appeal, with Alex Hirsch’s influence from the works of Matt Groening coming through in the pop culture savviness of the humor yet a layered story about this town’s densely insane mythology. Every element introduced connects to something else, resulting in a cohesive universe that helps give investment to the entire world and rewards the audience for paying attention. Yet, there’s still a cartoonish sensibility throughout the series to keep things fun. If anything, the various codes and messages that appear throughout the series gained an interest in young fans trying to find out the secrets of Gravity Falls.
In that way, Gravity Falls‘ greatest influence seemed to be Twin Peaks. Given the name of town, shorter run and general mysterious nature, the surreal nature of the series feels like a more childlike spin on the type of insanity David Lynch would produce. Yet, the show had a much more cohesive interaction between its characters that felt endearing yet never felt sappy enough to fall into cliches that the Disney parent company can often be guilty of. Much of this came from the extremely talented voice cast, from the versatility of creator Hirsch to the lovable earnestness of Kristen Schall to the nerdy awkwardness of Jason Ritter to the down to earth cool of Linda Cardellini, along with a host of diverse talents that voiced minor roles including TJ Miller, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Will Forte, Jennifer Coolidge, John Oliver, Larry King, Coolio, Mark Hamill, Nick Offerman, Patton Oswalt, J.K. Simmons and even Neil deGrasse Tyson.
All of them create the major core relationships that shape the main thrust of the show, particularly with Schall and Ritter as the main twins who’s major journey throughout the entire summer was to accept that they were on the cusp of adolescence. They have an authentic sibling bond, full of conflicting interests and awkward interactions that resonated hard with anyone who has a sibling around their same age or anyone who’s had to grow up. It contrasts wonderfully with Hirsch’s crusty Grunkle Stan, who plays a shyster character that clearly would set a bad example for these kids yet manages to evolve through their example that makes up for his many mistakes that are slowly unreaveled throughout the show. The other characters that populated the town ended up becoming as lovable as the extended cast of a show like The Simpsons, managing to grow and develop just as much as the Pines family. This is especially the case with Soos and Wendy, the former going from the “cool girl” archetype to an understanding teen who guides Dipper into a first step of what it means to be mature and the latter going from a bumbling goof to a sweet hearted friend known to help others in their time of need.
It all ultimately culminates in Gravity Falls being one of the better modern animated shows in recent memory. There’s enough examples of genre tropes to appease the average horror fan, but there’s more to the show than just that to gain the interest of a wider audience. It helps that at 40 episodes, the series is rather easy to binge through in a short amount of time and results in a wonderfully satisfying experience all the way to the very end. The show serves as a wonderful early introduction for children to the paranormal, one that will likely ignite their imagination and sense of discovery far more than the average Disney Channel sitcom that were sandwiched between. It’s a shame to see it go, but the influence surely will hopefully continue as time goes on.