Comfort Cartoons: Secretive and supernatural ‘Gravity Falls’

Graphic by Derin Savasan

Something weird is going on in Gravity Falls, Oregon, and it’s up to preteen twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal) to get to the bottom of it. We’re talking about “Gravity Falls” (2012–16), one of Disney Channel and Disney XD’s funniest, strangest and most interesting animated endeavors. The show follows Dipper and Mabel’s summer vacation with their “Grunkle” Stan (Alex Hirsch) in Gravity Falls, a small town filled with secrets and supernatural activity.

When they’re not running away from gnomes who’ve morphed into one giant gnome (a la Power Rangers) or trying to fulfill a monster’s candy quota (so he won’t eat them alive), Dipper and Mabel are working summer jobs at Stan’s Mystery Shack, a tourist trap full of tchotchkes. Add in some fun coworkers, kooky local friends and town weirdos, and “Gravity Falls” becomes a shape-shifter of sorts: it’s a workplace comedy, a mystery and a summer coming-of-age story.

At its best, episodes like “Headhunters” and “Society of the Blind Eye” follow Dipper and Mabel as they find themselves entangled in something crazy and supernatural. “Headhunters,” in particular, is a series highlight: The Mystery Shack’s wax museum figures come to life, cursed by the moon’s waxing phase. It’s pretty amazing to watch Dipper and Mabel destroy all the wax figures — which include a Larry King figure, voiced by the late Larry King himself.

Likewise, in “Society of the Blind Eye,” Dipper and Mabel discover a secret society that erases townsfolk’s memories if they’ve seen something supernatural. They connect this to Old Man McGucket the local kook — and his history in the town.

The show’s ability to balance all of its various ideas is commendable. Most episodes connect to one another, allowing for richer storytelling. Personal relationships, like Dipper’s crush on coworker Wendy and Mabel’s friendships with Candy Chiu and Grenda Grendinator, have the opportunity to grow over the show’s two seasons. The same can be said for the mythology of “Gravity Falls,” which gets deeper and more interesting with each episode. 

Many of the strange and supernatural elements of the show have the depth of something like “National Treasure” (2004) and “The X Files” (1993–2002). They’re richly detailed. Throughout Dipper and Mabel’s summer, they find journals with details on local mysteries, unlock codes to secret locations and discover portals to other dimensions. It all culminates in a three-part finale, “Weirdmageddon,” involving the demon Bill Cipher and his desire to rule and control the dimension.

The detailed storytelling and funny characters of “Gravity Falls” are perfect for audience investment, and the show’s been graced with a dedicated fan base whose members have studied the episodes’ countless clues and teasers. My earliest experience as a fan of “Gravity Falls” came when watching the episode “Summerween.”

I hadn’t seen the show much before this episode, but I vividly remember how scary the Summerween Trickster (the monster who forces Dipper and Mabel to fulfill his candy quota) was at the time. The episode’s “monster of the week” structure was exciting, but I also appreciated that the show was building that story into its deeper mythology and character development. This wasn’t a filler episode, but rather something full of exciting plot development.

“Gravity Falls” is available on Disney+.


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