Greetings fellow readers and seekers of the unknown, welcome to Gravity Falls! In the heart of Oregon lies a small town where everything is not as it seems and mysteries lie around every corner. The first of what I hope are many successful animated shows created by Alex Hirsch, Gravity Falls takes place over the course of one very eventful summer following the adventures of characters that have gone on to become some of my all-time favorites and some of the best writing I’ve seen on tv in ages, let alone from the Disney Channel. I can’t guarantee these reviews all happening in such a short amount of time as the Pines’ journey into the unknown (especially how there’s only one month of summer left) but the release schedule for each episode I’ll be looking at will be most assuredly better than the one for the show itself. I’m not exaggerating, months would go by between each new airing, a frustrating mixture of bad scheduling by the network (“Meh, that animated fluff those basement dwellers seem to love can wait, but God forbid the kids miss any chance to watch Dog With a Blog!!”) and the insane amount of time it makes to create an episode (it took a year to the day to get it from script completion to air time). Lucky you, you won’t have to wait as long like most of us fans did. They’ll be out every couple of weeks, once a month at the most. Also, while I’ve enjoyed individual episodes from time to time after the series finale, this will be my first time watching the entire show from start to finish in one go, so forgive me if I fangasm a bit at some points. Then again, seeing as how this beat out some classic British sci-fi, technicolor ponies, singing knights, and Harry Freaking Potter among others, it’s easy to see that I’m not alone in feeling this way. But enough of my overly long introduction, let’s get started with Gravity Falls’ first episode, “Tourist Trapped”.
We open on a happy summer scene of families having a barbecue and playing in the great outdoors…and then a golf cart driven by two screaming children crashes through a billboard while pursued by some huge unseen creature.
Right off the bat we’re shown that this isn’t going to be your average animated Disney show. It’s a perfect intro to what we’re about to dive into.
…until the actual intro starts. Everybody whistle along!
By the way, if you’re wondering why the animation on Dipper and Mabel seem so fluid, it’s not just the budget going towards the intro like so many cartoons in the 80’s did. They were animated here by legendary Disney animator (and Adventure Time horse) James Baxter.
No, seriously, James Baxter also animated and voiced that horse from Adventure Time that shares his namesake. Weird semi-related fact for you.
After that, we rewind a bit to where it all began – meet Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schall respectively), 12 year-old twin siblings who get sent by their forever-unseen parents to Gravity Falls, Oregon to spend their summer with their great-uncle, “Grunkle” Stan (Alex Hirsch). Stan runs a tourist trap called the Mystery Shack, where he tricks the local rubes and unwary vacationers into handing over their cash with cheap displays of fake creatures and cheesy jokes that even the Jungle Cruise skippers wish they thought of. He also employs the kids to help him run the gift shop (ask Stan if he knows anything about child labor laws and he’ll find some way to either distract or bribe you, that’s the kind of boss he is). Also working at the Mystery Shack are Soos, the handyman (also Alex Hirsch) and cool as ice teenager Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini). I’ll get more into them as the series progresses and why they’re great characters, but this episode does a decent job setting them up with what little screentime they’re given.
Mabel, the more outgoing of the twins, has no trouble finding something fun to do, whether it’s rolling in the grass or making friends with the goat who lives in their attic bedroom. Dipper on the other hand is less thrilled being stuck in the middle of nowhere for three months. The town seems to be hiding something, he frequently falls victim to Grunkle Stan’s pranks and he’s always the one who’s picked to do the hard jobs around the Shack. Speaking of, one particular evening Stan sends him to put up some Mystery Shack ads in the woods. Dipper is understandably reluctant, as not only are those woods creepy but his mosquito bites seem to be giving him a warning…
While out in the forest, Dipper tries to hammer a nail into a tree only to find that it’s made of metal and hollow. He discovers a hatch with some switches inside and after playing around with them, a hole pops open in the ground to reveal a dusty old book with the image of a six-fingered hand marked with a 3 on its cover.
Dipper reads the book, a journal with the owner’s name ripped out. Inside are countless notes and illustrations on the strange occurrences and creatures within the boundaries of Gravity Falls. As he reaches the journal’s last entries, the writings become more frantic and messy, ending with the author’s fears that he (or she) is being watched and one last warning that in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust. From there the Journal is completely blank…
…And then Mabel pops up to say hi.
When Dipper finds he can’t hide the Journal from her, he shares it. She’s intrigued, but not as much as Dipper is. You see, Mabel has only one goal – to find the perfect summer romance. She’s a sweet kid but has absolutely no clue when it comes to love, not that it puts a damper on her enthusiasm.
Her methods seem to have paid off, however, because shortly after they arrive home Mabel is visited by a boy she managed to charm while visiting the cemetery earlier – Normal Man, er, Norman.
Dipper isn’t as won over by Norman as Mabel is and consults the Journal after they leave for their date. After much searching he comes across an entry on zombies where the description of pale skin, attitudes befitting teenagers, and even the accompanying image are a perfect match for Norman. Before he can panic, Soos appears and advises him to get some evidence first before becoming the boy who cried zombie.
We get a montage of Dipper spying on Mabel and Norman’s awkward dating and we see Mabel do some kissing practice with a leafblower…with predictable results.
Dipper confesses that he thinks Norman isn’t what he seems, to which Mabel expresses her secret hope that he’s really a vampire (not the only jab at Twilight/tween supernatural romances this show makes, especially in this episode). Dipper shocks her by showing her an illustration in the Journal of…a gnome! Then he realizes he’s opened it at the wrong page and shows her the notes on zombies. Mabel is pretty skeptical in spite of the signs, and Dipper’s stubborn insistence isn’t helping. He tries reminding her of the Journal’s warning to trust no one, which she follows up with “What about me, huh? Why can’t you trust me?” Finally she pushes him out of the room. Dipper is ready to give up on his paranoia then and there as he watches the footage he recorded one last time…
…and then he sees Norman’s hand fall off when Mabel isn’t looking.
With Mabel already gone on her date, Dipper runs around the Mystery Shack until he finds Grunkle Stan, but he’s in the middle of another tour and too busy to notice. Dipper sees Wendy return with the golf cart and she takes his ranting about saving his sister from a zombie like the ice pack of coolness she is and gives him the cart. Soos also pops up with a shovel (to hit the zombie with) and a bat (for any piñatas that might be lying around).
Meanwhile, Norman has brought Mabel out to the middle of nowhere, where he admits that he’s got something big to tell her now that they’ve gotten to know each other. Mabel crosses her fingers that he’s Edward Cullen and Norman unzips his hoodie to reveal –
No joke, I did not see this coming at all the first time I saw this. It’s a great twist, and I love how it was foreshadowed with what was supposed to be a mistake made by Dipper.
The leader of the gnomes, Jeff (Alex Hirsch), tells Mabel they’re looking for a new Gnome Queen and she’s number one on their list. Mabel, understandably flabbergasted, lets them down gently, but the gnomes decide that if honesty won’t win her over then kidnapping certainly will.
Dipper manages to find the gnomes’ lair…somehow…and is surprised as Mabel was to find he was accidentally right about Norman the second time. He frees Mabel, he punches a gnome in the gut which causes him to puke rainbows (yes, this is where that image floating around the internet is from in case you’re wondering), and they get away in the go-kart. Unfortunately, the gnomes all band together to form a giant monster gnome and they give chase, leading to where we came in fifteen minutes ago.
Dipper and Mabel almost get away but the gnome-monster hurls a tree into their path and they crash outside the Mystery Shack. Grunkle Stan is distracted by showing off the World’s Most Distracting Object (which is surprisingly not a cell phone) and Dipper and Mabel are left to the gnomes’ mercy. When it seems like there’s no other way out, Mabel offers herself up to the gnomes. Dipper tries to stop her, but she begs him to trust her. Jeff climbs down from the gnome pile to claim his bride…then Mabel sics the leafblower from earlier on him. Together she and Dipper suck him in then send him flying through the gnomes and screaming out into the horizon a la Team Rocket. With no one to control them, the other gnomes quickly scatter. Mabel apologizes for not listening to Dipper and they make up with an awkward sibling hug complete with timed pats on the back (awwww).
Grunkle Stan notices the kids coming in looking like hell and shows a rare trace of generosity by letting them have something from the gift shop. Dipper picks a new hat with a pine tree symbol on it since he lost his old one, and Mabel somehow finds a grappling hook in the discount box (sure hope that comes in handy). That night as they get ready for bed, Dipper writes in the Journal that even though he was warned to trust no one in Gravity Falls, he knows there’s one person he can.
Meanwhile, Stan punches a code in the vending machine which opens up a secret door…
“Tourist Trapped” is one of the most fun pilots for a tv show I’ve ever watched. It does a great job introducing the main characters and setting up the plot and overarching themes. Most first episodes of a series are often awkward and uncomfortable to revisit since the quality of the show often skyrockets from there, but Tourist Trapped isn’t one of them. I don’t know if I’d rank it among my top ten favorites of the series, but hey, it comes close. Jason Ritter’s voice takes some getting used to as he’s clearly an adult trying to play a 12 year-old boy, but trust me, by the series’ end you can’t imagine Dipper played by anyone else. Kristen Schall, however, is perfect as Mabel. Alex Hirsch went on record saying that he wouldn’t have done the show without her. Her manic energy and bubbly go hand in hand with Mabel’s naivete and blithe spirit. It’s kind of hard to hear any other character she plays without going back to Mabel. As you may have noticed, Alex Hirsch plays more than a few characters in this episode, and his talents aren’t limited to just the ones featured here. I did notice Soos sounds a little different here compared to the rest of the series, but you can chalk it up to Hirsch still working him out. His gravelly Grunkle Stan on the other hand never changes (vocally at least), and be warned, he usually gets the best lines.
Seeing as how this is my first time reviewing a series that has resonated so well with the online community among other audiences, and I won’t be able to cover every single minute detail of every episode, I’m setting aside a bit at the end of each review to go over some highlights that would otherwise be overlooked (heaven forbid people actually go watch the episode for themselves through legal means!), starting with the general reaction to the episode in question.
And the Internet Went:
The witty lines, cartoony art style and that one image of the rainbow-spewing gnome really grabbed people’s attention. It got them to thinking that this could very well be a legitimate reason to watch the Disney Channel again.
End Credits Craziness: The rainbow-puking gnome throwing up for the entirety of the credits (truly, the break-out star of this series…apart from Schmebulock, whom I forgot to mention when talking about the gnomes).
Callbacks: Seeing how this is the first episode…nada.
Crowning Line of Hilawesomeness: Soos’ completely serious “I am needed elsewhere.” after being called by Stan to fix a clogged toilet. Also there’s something about Alex Hirsch’s delivery on Stan overhearing Dipper’s revelation that cracks me up: “…Did someone say “crombie”? What was that, “crombie”…it’s not even a word…you’re losing your mind…”
Mabel SWatch (Sweater Watch): Her iconic shooting star over magenta, but also a Native American pattern and a green one with a daisy during her boyfriend-prospecting montage, and a sparkly sweater with a kitten face when out on her fatal date with “Norman”.
Dear Princess Celestabelleabethabelle: I learned that you can always rely on the people closest to you, whether it’s sharing an important secret or getting you out of a forced marriage with 500 gnomes.
Where’s that wacky triangle at?
Next time on Gravity Falls, get ready for some good ol’ fashioned monster huntin’, it’s “The Legend of the Gobblewonker”. See you then!
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