I had heard that the animated Disney Channel series “Gravity Falls” had been well received by audiences and critics, so it surprised me when my teen boy and ‘tween girl refused to watch it with me. “Why?” I wanted to know. “Because we hate it,” came the reply.
Huh? But the premise seems so solid! Twelve-year-old twins Mabel (Kristen Schaal) and Dipper (Jason Ritter) Pines are sent to spend the summer with their Great Uncle Stan, who runs a tourist attraction in the resort town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Everything he does at his “Mystery Shack” may be a hokey scam, but tourists still swallow the whole hoagie. And somehow, real mysteries pop up to startle and engage the Pines kids.
If that sounds a little reminiscent of “Scooby-Doo!,” get that image out of your head, because there’s no comparison. The animation style, the grating characters, the wise-guy banter, and edgy elements remind you more of a Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network series than anything Warner Bros. or Disney has done. I found myself thinking of “Fairly OddParents,” with its similar emphasis on three characters and a style of drawing that wasn’t “pretty.” “Gravity Falls,” I soon learned, was more off-the-wall than Disney’s edgiest shows—series like “Phineas and Ferb” or “Kim Possible.”
The big difference, I think, is that “Gravity Falls” has a grimy aspect to it, with the dialogue, animation, and tone taking its cue from “Grunkle” (short for Great Uncle) Stan, who walks around in boxer shorts and who oozes the kind of amorality you’d expect from someone who routinely deceives tourists to make a buck.
As I watched “Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales” alone, at first I was mystified by my kids’ reaction, but soon I found myself joining their company, to a degree. They hated the whole series; I only hated one character: Grunkle Stan (Alex Hirsch), who is drawn with a bulbous nose, boney legs, oversized glasses, and a five o’clock shadow that covers his entire face. More than his looks, it was his annoying voice and manner and the things that came out of his mouth that bothered me. He was fingernails on my chalkboard—a minor, two-dimensional character who had been given a lead role he didn’t deserve.
The kids, on the other hand, are more fully realized characters who display a greater range of emotions and who gravitate toward a nice-kids default no matter how far off course they drift during a 21-minute episode. And Mabel with her wide smile and mouthful of braces, is a character with equal parts spunk and warmth.
Usually these single-disc TV series compilations seem random, but fans of the show get the first six episodes from Season 1 (2012) in “Six Strange Tales”:
“Tourist Trapped” introduces the characters and concept, with Dipper finding a journal that tells of mysteries in Gravity Falls and offers ways to solve them. And the first mystery? A boyfriend of Mabel’s that he suspects is a zombie.
“The Legend of the Gobblewonker” features a lake monster which, like Nessie, may or may not be real, so the twins enlist the help of Soos (also voiced by Hirsch), the Mystery Shack’s handyman.
“Head Hunters” involves a series of sinister events and a hidden room that reveals a long-forgotten attraction: wax figures. Stan decides to reboot the wax museum of horrors, and Mabel is inspired to create a wax statue of her great uncle.
“The Hand That Rocks the Mabel” introduces Lil’ Gideon, a psychic kid who’s Grunkle Stan’s biggest competition for tourist dollars . . . and another potential boyfriend for Mabel, and a potential mystery for Dipper.
“The Inconveniencing” finds Dipper and Mabel joining Wendy and her friends as they head for a condemned convenience store. Dipper obviously likes Wendy and tries to show off, but darned spooky occurrences keep popping up.
In “Dipper vs. Manliness,” Dipper wants to shed his wimpiness and become a man, and who better to help than Man-ataur? Meanwhile, Great Uncle Stan has an interest in Lazy Susan, a local waitress, and Mabel tries to smooth out some of his rough edges.
Total runtime is 129 minutes.
The episodes are presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and for a DVD the level of detail and sharpness is quite good. The palette runs a little earthy, but the colors still seem nicely saturated.
The audio is an English, French, or Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. There’s no surround, but the audio is clear and about as assertive as Stan.
There are no bonus features, except for a paper Mystery Book Journal #3.
More than 3100 viewers gave this a collective 7.7 at the Internet Movie Database, but I have to side with my kids on this one. The character of Grunkle Stan is annoying, and since the show draws much of its personality from Grunkle Stan, anyone who can’t stand him won’t be able to appreciate the series.