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Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales (2012)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/15/2013

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2

Review by Sydny Long, Posted on 10/7/2013

Let's face it: we all know about Disney. We grew up with those diverse and wonderful characters, sang along to every musical number, and, as a nation, wished upon a star. But not everyone views the Giant Mouse as friendly. Disney has its doubters, who never hesitate to question the corporation's financial hunger and excessively-sanitized morals. In today's cynical world, these morals have only been pushed further, causing the doubters to multiply. Just ask any television-watching person who isn't in middle school about Disney Channel and they'll most likely spiel about how terrible its unoriginal sitcoms are. Can its latest cartoon series, Gravity Falls, save the day?

The show is centered around two twelve-year-olds, the genre-savvy and eternally awkward Dipper (voiced by Jason Ritter) and his buoyant, imaginative sister Mabel (voiced by Kirsten Schaal). Over the summer, they're sent to live in Gravity Falls with their greedy, unethical Great-Uncle Stan (voiced by Alex Hirsch), who manages a seedy tourist trap called the Mystery Shack. Dipper and Mabel soon befriend the Shack's only employees: the obese, somewhat offbeat Soos (voiced by Alex Hirsch) and friendly teenager Wendy (voiced by Linda Cardelini). After Dipper discovers an old book in the forest outside his new home, he realizes the sleepy town may be more sinister than he initially believed. Can he and his sister stick together and survive the oddities Gravity Falls throws at them?

The disc includes the following episodes:

"Tourist Trapped"

"The Legend of the Gobblewonker"

"Head Hunters"

"The Hand that Rocks the Mabel"

"The Inconveniencing"

"Dipper vs. Manliness"

First of all, I applaud Disney's remarkably intelligent choice to package the show's first six episodes together. This is definitely a series to watch in chronological order, as there are several story arcs and an abundance of callbacks to previous episodes. Of course, it would have been nice to have the entire first season on DVD, but you can't ask too much of a money-seeking company like Disney.

Now, on to the show. It may sound contrived, but Gravity Falls is a show the whole family can truly enjoy. The art is atheistically pleasing and employs a pastel color palette that is much different than the typical cartoon. Every character has a certain feature that adds to their personality: Dipper has bags under his eyes from worrying, Mabel has pink cheeks and braces, just like any twelve-year-old girl would. Not only are these characters realistic (what kid hasn't tried to chew their gum to look like a brain or attempted to bedazzle their own face?) but they're good role models for the children watching. Mabel is very self-confident and doesn't let other people change who she truly is. Dipper has a heightened sense of morality and curiosity, and is much more intelligent when compared to other teenaged boys in the media.

What truly ties the series together are two unrelated, but equally important, factors: voice-acting and writing. Jason Ritter, despite making Dipper sound like a thirty-year-old, brings a sort of anxiety to his voice that draws you in and makes any of his seemingly paranoid claims about the dangers of Gravity Falls sound real. Casting Kirsten Schaal as Mabel was a match made in Heaven: no one else could have executed her non-sequesters and childish insults without sounding somewhat artificial. Alex Hirsch (who also created and writes for the show) becomes a triple threat in the recording booth by impressing us with his raspy Stan and slow-voiced Soos. A few guest stars have even showed up, such as TJ Miller (as the delightfully joyless, angsty teenager Robbie) and Alfred Molina (voicing a massive, multi-headed bear).

The other factor is the writing, which is some of most original and inspired on television. Alex Hirsch, the mastermind behind the show, pours his heart and soul into every story, drawing from his own experiences with his twin sister. Although it takes a few episode for the ball to start rolling, the dialogue soon becomes snappy and not afraid to embrace corny puns and unabashed wordplay (think early The Simpsons). Much like The X-Files, the series approaches a "monster-a-week" format, involving the twins dealing with the various creatures and villains populating their town. However, these supernatural escapades are often paired with lessons about adolescence: learning to embrace one's self, saying "no" when a boyfriend or girlfriend makes you feel uncomfortable, and appreciating your elders. While no one is ever in any true peril, Disney Channel has been strangely lenient about Gravity Falls. The season finale included the first appearance of blood in years. Maybe this candy-coated company is trying to let us know it has a more bitter undertone.

So, in conclusion, Gravity Falls is a show that has many influences: The X-Files, The Simpsons, Twin Peaks. As usual, this means there are plenty of references and jokes that will soar right over kids' heads. But they'll find lots to love in that wonderful Oregon town. And even if you're still sick of Disney, you should at least enjoy Jason Ritter singing a delightfully embarrassing song about lambs.

Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales should get the attention of the attorneys on Mystery Hill on DVD courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good (and really stand out here) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is fairly detailed, but doesn't reveal any issues with the animation. This doesn't quite rival HD broadcast quality, but it looks good. The DVD carries a Dolby 2.0 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The bulk of the audio comes from the center channel, but we do get the occasional sound from the left or right channel. The music sounds fine and the sound effects never overpower the dialogue.

The special features on this disc only include the typical previews for Disney films and nothing else. It is packaged, however, with a paperback copy of the journal on the show that includes quite a few pages of information about the creatures encountered in Gravity Falls. While slim and a bit less meaty than one would hope, it's still essential for any fan of the show.

Review Edited by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.