Monday, November 30, 2015

"But I Don't Want to Say Goodbye to Gravity Falls"

I have to confess something: I'm a huge Gravity Falls fan. Gravity Falls is a traditionally animated show on the Disney Channel about two twins, Dipper and Mabel, who spend the summer with their charlatan great-uncle and discover strange creatures in his tourist trap town. At first starting with slice of life episodes, in which the twins encounter ghosts, gnomes, mermaids, and even a cherub, the series has taken a darker turn with new characters in the second season. Currently the season two finale has been taking place over second episodes, in which the show's world has turned upside down.

Several weeks ago the show creator, Alex Hirsch has announced that after the season two finale, Gravity Falls will end. Within the show, summer will come to an end, and Dipper and Mabel Pines will have grown up. This came as a shock, as the season finale has pretty much destroyed the world so far and pushed the main characters to their limits, raising the physical and emotional stakes. We have a vast amount of questions that require answers, as well as multiple unresolved plot-lines. Hirsch has three episodes to handle a vast amount of material, while not telling us how the world will change from a near apocalypse.

 Image source:

Before Gravity Falls, the best Disney show on the air was Phineas and Ferb. While the show is brilliant with the references and storytelling, it relies on a rather straightforward and almost predictable formula. In addition, it operates on strange logic at times, has animation that at one point is lampooned as MC Escher-derived and romanticizes the notion that one can do so much during summer and winter vacation. The format feels very limited, and the best characters were the ones who didn't speak. It takes one a long while to get used to that show, and to its zany sense of adventure.

When it comes to animated shows, Disney's Golden Age from the 1990s spoiled me; the humor and fluid animation from shows like Chip 'N Dale, DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, and others had me accept high standards for their successors. A new show would have to wow me with an awesome opening or preview. I caught one or two episodes of Gravity Falls, and they seemed to be heavy-handed in telling morals: don't change an aspect of yourself just because others are making fun of it, and don't cheat at mini-golf even if your opponent is nasty.

Image source:

Then I saw the season one finale; it won me over with an epic fight scene and important character development. Tumblr also screen-capped some of the show's best moments, including a deconstruction of the "friend zone". I started to watch more season two episodes, including one that hit very close to home for someone with an introverted personality, and I started watching episodes on the days that they premiered. Slowly, with each standalone story-line, I got into the show, and started working out to it. A few fanfiction pieces are even saved on my digital clouds.

When the first big hiatus ended in the spring, Gravity Falls no longer became a weird slice of life series with a big mystery; it became a large tragedy. The episode that changed this dynamic, "A Tale of Two Stans," introduced a character who understands how the weird Gravity Falls logic works, and has even found possible explanations for it. We also see a family torn apart, a sobering reality in this day and age, and fears of the past repeating itself with future generations. This character has made the world of Gravity Falls bigger, more complicated, more fascinating, and more dangerous. He talks about the future, or the lack of one.

Image source:

With all of that material, that emotional investment, that fanbase that can be delightfully divisive when debating over the main characters' selfishness or morality, just how can we say goodbye? It feels like we've only gotten started. A lot of Chekhov's Guns have gone unused, and the characters have to figure out how they've changed now that the world has ended.  Yet we have to accept that the story ends with summer, and with quite a few ramifications. 

Good shows do have endings; Avatar's two series had wonderful finales. The fact that Alex Hirsch announced this right as season two is ending, however, feels like a shot to the heart. It would have been one thing if he had told us at the season premiere, so that we could brace ourselves to say goodbye, the way we prepare to say goodbye when a dear friend or family member moves away. Instead we have gotten the announcement that a friend has to leave on an emergency red eye, and we can't even see him off at the airport.

Image source:

With that said, I cannot thank Alex Hirsch enough for the ride. He restored my faith in the Disney animation block, so that I've discovered other shows like Wander Over Yonder and Star Vs. the Forces of Evil. He wrote a good story, and one that has been rewarding thus far. Thank you for your imagination, brains, and willingness to relive childhood.

No comments: