Celebrating Gravity Falls, Western Animation’s Most Alive Dead Show

The show remains a summer we’ll never forget.

gravity falls

Despite ending nearly eight years ago, the Gravity Falls franchise has been anything but dormant. Ford’s Journal was released in 2016, a sequel graphic novel called Gravity Falls: Lost Legends was released in 2018, several shorts such as Soos’ Stan Fiction, Gravity Falls x Line Rider, and Call Me Mabel were released from 2017 to 2020, and a new book called The Book of Bill (reportedly aimed at older readers) is set to release this July 23, 2024.

Not just that, but the show’s soundtrack just released last January 11 and is currently nominated for the 2024 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. The show is constantly referenced in other animated shows like The Simpsons, Rick and Morty, The Owl House, and Amphibia, and Amphibia even had an episode called Wax Museum that paid homage to Gravity Falls and featured creator Alex Hirsch as a guest voice actor.

Even with no new episode since 2016, Disney’s two-season fantasy adventure cartoon remains alive and kicking, and with a subreddit of nearly 800,000 members, many of whom are extremely excited about the upcoming Book of Bill, it’s clear the fan base is still strong and eager for new content.

For anyone who wasn’t there during the show’s prime, Gravity Falls was about two twin kids named Dipper and Mabel who spend their summer with their great-uncle in a town called Gravity Falls. Here, Dipper finds a journal in the woods detailing all the fantastic creatures of the town, such as gnomes, zombies, and ghosts. Most eerily, though, there’s a reminder that perplexes Dipper as he reads it: “Remember — In Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.”

Gravity Falls

To understand why this show remains so beloved, we must understand how popular this show was during its run. Gravity Falls was Disney XD’s highest-rated show in 2015 and early 2016, the episodes frequently getting 1–2 million viewers. The show finale itself garnered 2.47 million viewers, and the all-day Gravity Falls marathon that preceded it generated 10.7 million unique total viewers. The show has won three Annie Awards, two Emmys, and one BAFTA Children’s Award, among other wins and nominations.

The show also received overwhelmingly positive reviews, boasting a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for both its seasons. Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro even called it “one of the best realized, most compelling series around.” Gravity Falls was an animated phenomenon during its release, with an active audience of not just young kids, but teenagers and adults as well.

It’s a bit surprising when you consider the show’s premise is a familiar one. The story of kids entering a world among ours filled with strange and magical creatures has been done by titles like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Fablehaven, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Scooby-Doo, Coraline, ParaNorman, and if we’re considering adult protagonists instead of kids, The X-Files and Supernatural.

However, Gravity Falls was just so lovingly well-crafted that it elevated itself from being just another low fantasy adventure title for younger viewers. The most gripping thing about the show were its mysteries, especially its central one: Who wrote the journal? This was a mystery that had fans in a chokehold as every new episode seemed to bring forth a new clue to this puzzle, prompting geeky sleuths to write long theories about who the author could be.

The opening theme also had an image of a triangle surrounded by a circle of symbols, which lasted for less than a second and required viewers to pause to see every symbol. “Well, if it’s that brief, then it must be important!” the fandom collectively said, and numerous theories about what the symbols could mean inhabited Tumblr and Reddit.

Every episode also ended with a cryptogram in its credits like “RQZDUGV DRVKLPD”, varying from Caesar to Atbash to keyed Vigenère ciphers. When decoded, these said messages like “LIES” and “BILL IS WATCHING.” Even when the code was something as silly as “ONWARDS AOSHIMA!”, a reference to a hallucination Mabel has within the episode, it was still fantastic fun to put that detective cap on, or even just read and watch online as fans smarter than you decoded the messages and figured out what they could mean to the show.

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Gravity Falls fans were dedicated because the show actively encouraged them to and rewarded them for being so. The show felt like solving a real-life ongoing mystery as it wouldn’t be until Season 2 for clues to really piece together and the author of the journal to finally be revealed, and with an extremely active fan community, the journey heading to its end was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.

It wasn’t just the mysteries, though. Gravity Falls was also a gorgeously animated show, with likable characters and Simpsons-esque humor. Dipper made for an endearing protagonist, nerdy and mystery-loving but also occasionally awkward and a caring friend. Mabel was a charming deuteragonist, the flip side of Dipper with her constant chipperness, exuberant antics, and free-spirited confidence.

The twins’ wise-cracking cheapskate great-uncle Grunkle Stan, his fun childish Mystery Shack employee Soos, and cool sarcastic teenage counter clerk Wendy completed the hilarious Mystery Shack team, and spending time with this cast of characters always guaranteed an exciting and knee-slapping good time.

Even recurring characters like resident kook Old Man McGucket, charming but sinister Gideon Gleeful, and rich and popular Pacifica Northwest were a blast to watch whenever they popped up, and this attachment to the Gravity Falls residents only made the sentimental moments of the show feel even more resonant and earned.

“From age 8-18 I didn’t miss a single Simpsons premiere,” creator Alex Hirsch has said, and this influence shows. The fictional town of Gravity Falls rivals that of The Simpsons’s Springfield when it comes to audience attachment to its places and townsfolk, and the successful mixture of humor and tenderness could’ve only come from a showrunner who grew up a massive Groening fan.

One episode in particular, Irrational Treasure, felt heavily inspired by The Simpsons episode Lisa the Iconoclast. Irrational Treasure was about Dipper and Mabel finding evidence of the town founder being a hoax, and Lisa the Iconoclast was about Lisa discovering Springfield founder Jebediah Springfield’s secret past as a murderous, vicious pirate. Both episodes followed young detectives uncovering secrets about their town’s past, making it clear how influenced Alex Hirsch was by the classic 90s animated show.

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However, Gravity Falls has one especially important aspect that puts it above The Simpsons: it ended. After two superb seasons, Hirsch announced just three months before its finale that the show was being finished, and this decision to end the show after a rather short run was “100% [his] choice”.

This was, of course, heartbreaking news for the fandom, but the more time went on since this announcement, the clearer it became that this was very much a good thing. Gravity Falls was a story about two kids and their summer vacation, and summer vacations were never meant to last forever. As September rolls in, a new school year begins, the leaves begin to turn orange, and kids continue to grow up and experience new things.

Gravity Falls ending when it did turned it into a complete show, with respected character growths, solid story arcs, and a solved mystery that stayed solved and didn’t feel stretched out or padded. Considering all this, is it any wonder why the show’s presence is still felt, nearly a decade after its finale? It wasn’t just a cartoon fans watched whenever they caught it while channel surfing, it was a world they invested in emotionally, one that made them feel like they were Gravity Falls residents themselves.

Episode premieres were written down in people’s planners, theories were constantly being shared and discussed, and when it was time to say goodbye, that bittersweet farewell felt just right. Every new piece of media that comes from the franchise feels like a celebration of a well-deserved cult classic show, and listening to the soundtrack released this late fills you with joyful nostalgia and the sudden urge to rewatch the entire show yet again.

This does raise one particular question, though: Could Gravity Falls possibly be coming back? Hirsch has talked about continuing the canon through a film or a video game, but nothing about a Season 3 or any spin-off shows. A third season feels unnecessary, but a film or video game sounds pretty intriguing — as long as Hirsch is heavily involved in it, anyway.

Even if neither happens, though, Gravity Falls can at least be proud of the legacy it’s left behind. For a show to feel so alive long after its swan song is a rare accomplishment, but it’s an accomplishment that only makes too much sense for Gravity Falls to have achieved.

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