Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Gravity Falls "Tourist Trapped"

You know, as I write this Recap and Review, Gravity Falls will be coming back to TV soon after that huge cliffhanger. As such, I fully expect some of the stuff I say about this show to be proven wrong. Like…. I don’t know, maybe Dipper will turn out to be the bad guy, who knows.

The entire show was inspired by Alex Hirsch’s experiences camping with his great aunt “Graunty” Lois. In fact, Dipper and Mabel are pretty much directly based off of Alex and his twin sister Ariel. And I’ve got to say, speaking from experience, this show freaking nails what it’s like to get along with a sibling roughly your age.

The show itself is a nice homage to everything from Scooby-Doo to Twin Peaks. In fact, the series was originally going to be called Twin Pines to drive the reference home.

This specific episode was based off of the eleven-minute unaired short used to pitch the series to Disney, which would explain a little bit of the weirdness. Not the gnomes; I mean the stuff that doesn’t really fit with later episodes, like Dipper’s narration, or when he writes what he learned in his new Journal at the end. I’d review the unaired pilot if I could, but Alex Hirsch is so embarrassed by it that he refuses to let the entire thing see the light of day.

As for the actual plot of the episode, it was a nice twist on modern expectations. Zombies are everywhere in fiction these days, and it was nice to have the twist not be that Norman was a zombie, but that he was a bunch of gnomes in a hoodie.

On a minor note, seeing Mabel be an active part in saving the day was nice, and I’m glad to see girls being proactive about saving the day in kids’ shows.

The lesson about trust is drilled into our head by the ending, but there are a couple of smaller, more subtle lessons to be found.

Don’t go into the woods with a stranger. I think that speaks for itself.

Make the best of a bad situation. When life gives you lemons, and all that. Gravity Falls might be a boring little town, so go find something interesting to do. Of course, you should always be careful what you wish for….

Dipper Pines (Jason Ritter)

Dipper is your classic straight man. The brains to the brawn, the thinker, the detective, et cetera. While this can occasionally make him seem a bit bland next to the wacky inhabitants of Gravity Falls, or even his own sister, he has enough moments to remind you that he’s a twelve-year-old kid with a sense of fun. Even if Jason Ritter’s voice doesn’t exactly scream “twelve-year-old.”

Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal)
Mabel Pines is pure joy. Ain’t nothing gets her down. And like Ariel Hirsch, she makes her own sweaters, with a new one appearing in every episode. What I really like about the character is that she just goes for things. She’s the brawn to Dipper’s brain, in a way. Sure, Dipper has to go rescue his sister from a bunch of gnomes, but she was fighting back the whole time. Heck, she even ended up saving the day.

Actually, I think this picture sums it up quite nicely.

Thinking and doing. Yin and yang. Peanut butter and jelly.
Kristen Schaal’s voice is absolutely perfect for the character. Her actual, natural speaking voice. It has such a childlike enthusiasm at every second that completely captures Mabel’s essence. In fact, when they were casting the show, there was no Plan B. They wanted Kristen Schaal or they weren’t making the show. Or so they claim.
But everything ended up for the best; Mabel is definitely in the running for my favorite character. Of course, most of the main characters are in the running for my favorite character, but still.

Grunkle Stan (Alex Hirsch)
The mysterious hack of the Mystery Shack. Apparently, he’s based off of Alex Hirsch’s real-life Grandpa Stan. Which is really making me start to wonder if this show is just Alex Hirsch’s autobiography.

The guy’s a penny-pinching conman who really doesn’t know how to show affection. When the twins re-enter the Shack at the end of the episode, he responds with a seemingly mean-spirited joke only to tell them they can have anything they like from the gift shop. That one scene makes it very clear that Stanford Pines has a good heart deep down.

Or does he?

The end of the Gravity Falls opening shows us a mysterious page ostensibly from Dipper’s journal.

Right of the mysterious wheel of secrets. Ignore the Konami Code.
When you apply the Atbash Cypher, it translates to “Stan is not what he seems.” Which sure puts that secret room behind the vending machine in an interesting light.

But what do we really know about Grunkle Stan? He has both his eyes, but wears an eyepatch in front of customers. He carries around a cane, but he doesn’t need one. If Stan can pull the wool over the eyes of tourists so easily, then who’s to say he isn’t doing the same thing with Dipper and Mabel?

Whoever or whatever Grunkle Stan is, Alex Hirsch’s raspy voice is spot on for the character, ranging from manic showmanship to a laid back businesslike demeanor. Bob Odenkirk was the original choice for the role, but he turned it down. Imagine what that would have been like.

Soos (Alex Hirsch)
Apparently, Soos is based on a former roommate of Alex Hirsch’s. And if he was anything like Soos, here, I’d love to meet the guy. Soos is a non-sequitur champion with a talent for dispensing advice. And unclogging toilets. His head’s in the clouds, but he’s still a font of common sense. Somehow.

Wendy (Linda Cardinelli)
We don’t see much of Wendy. Only enough to know that she’s awesome. Laid back, sarcastic, but still cool enough to let you borrow the golf cart if you look like you need it.

Apparently, the character was based off of one of Alex Hirsch’s childhood crushes. An oddly-popular popular fan theory is that it was a young Lauren Faust, but I think that would be a bit too much of a coincidence. Still, stranger things have happened….

Gnomes (Alex Hirsch)
Somehow, they made garden gnomes into a credible threat. I’m suitably impressed.

Really nice. The backgrounds are lush and beautiful. And they actually stuck animals native to Oregon in the background, including the purple finch, which is a pretty obscure bird. The whole thing is nicely atmospheric with a nice hand-painted look to it and tons of secrets in the background. And that’s not getting into the Easter Eggs you can find by pausing and looking at Dipper’s Journal.

And the intro looks even better than the actual show, with a few bits of it done by the legendary James Baxter, who you might know from working on the various movies of the Disney Renaissance. You know, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, et cetera.

Final Thoughts
Gravity Falls is at the same time spooky and funny; wacky, yet grounded in the realism of the characters. And this episode is a great introduction into this unique world.

But in the end, I have to say that this is a middle-of-the-road episode of the series. Not to say this episode is bad. Far from it; this was an immensely enjoyable half-hour of TV which I would rather watch than any episode of the Marvel Animation Universe. But later episodes are even better.

So welcome, one and all, to Gravity Falls.

Next time, Dipper and Mabel go looking for a lake monster. Hijinks ensue. See you then!


  1. Man, I really love this show! Thanks for doing a recap/review of it! The above points I did share, the voice acting for Dipper and Stan took me awhile to get used to. I used to think Brian Doyle Murphy should've been Stan. I won't spoil it for you, but I am worried about the Dipper/Mabel dynamic after the big season two episode.

    I tweeted some fan art to Thurop Van Orman (voice of season one's primary antagonist Gideon Gleeful) and he really like it!;

  2. It's always awesome when fan art gets the creator's approval. Mazel tov!

    And don't worry about spoiling things for me; I've seen every episode at least once. And yes, I'm a bit worried about the dynamic, too. Dipper, in particular....