One of the best animated series that a lot of you have never seen, Gravity Falls is a blast from beginning to end, mixing elements of various sci-fi genre movies and TV series into its fun, humorous premise. Shout! Factory has taken the time to give this Disney series a truly remarkable release – one of the best of the year – with well-rendered video and audio and loaded with bonus features. This is more than a great series set, it's Must Own.
Like many of you, I suppose, I'm one of those who have always heard great things about Gravity Falls, but never got around to checking it out. The animated series from Alex Hirsch, whose childhood summer spent with his twin sister, Ariel, at his aunt's cabin was an inspiration for the series, isn't the typical kind of kids' show we see these days. In other words, it doesn't exist to sell toys and other merchandise. Instead, it's all about characterization, something that only a handful of animated series have put their focus on.
The series features twin 12-year-old brother and sister Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal), whose parents send them to spend a summer with their Great Uncle "Grunkle" Stan (voiced by Alex Hirsch, who voices a number of characters in the series) in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon (think Twin Peaks, only animated). Both the town as well as Grunkle Stan himself are "full of secrets" (to borrow a Twin Peaks phrase), and with each new episode, Dipper and Mabel find themselves facing off against forces or creatures of the paranormal, the extraterrestrial, or the unexplained (think The X-Files).
Space does not provide for all the various characters and situations that Dipper and Mabel encounter, but two recurring characters include Soos (also voiced by Hirsch), a handyman who works at Grunkle Stan's "Mystery Shack" – which is a kind of tourist trap that takes advantage of the town's spooky history to try and turn a profit, and Wendy (Linda Cardellini), a 15-year-old employee of the store who Dipper has a huge crush on. As far as the episode plots are concerned, it's obvious that Hirsch and his staff are huge genre fans, as topics like clones, time travel, monsters, and aliens are handled in a way that is not only smart, but plays off of how we've seen such topics addressed in movies and television series over the years.
But what really makes Gravity Falls work is that the characters actually care about each other. And not in a typical kids-themed animated show kind of way...there's a real emotional depth to the series. It's evidenced in such episodes as Season 1's "The Time Traveler's Pig" where Dipper uses a time travel device over and over (and over!) to try and win Wendy's affection. But when he finally gets it right, it results in Mabel losing her pet pig. Dipper has to make the decision whether to be selfish or to fix things for his sister. Then in Season 2, there's the wonderful "Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future" where the two pre-teens (about to turn 13 in this episode) realize that they can't stop the clock...that they're getting older and their summer won't last forever. By cartoon standards, it's heartbreaking stuff.
Perhaps some of you are wondering, "Hey, if this show is so great, how come it's not on TV anymore?" Well, the answer is that Alex Hirsch didn't want his series to drop in quality, so he made the choice to end it after two seasons, despite the fact that the show was consistently drawing several million viewers for each new episode. While Hirsch has returned to the Gravity Falls universe this year with a brand-new graphic novel featuring the characters (released on the same day this boxed set was), there has been no indication that he'll ever do more of these in the animated realm – although hope springs eternal.
Whether you're 5 or 95 (two demographics I'm pretty sure aren't reading this review), you'll find something to love with Gravity Falls. It's got enough creativity and action to keep the kiddies' attention, yet enough heart to keep the grown-ups engaged as well. This set – which Disney smartly turned over to the folks at Shout! Factory to put together – is everything fans (and newbies) could hope for and it's worth a spot on any serious collector's shelf.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The complete series of Gravity Falls lands on Blu-ray in three Elite keepcases – all housed inside a sturdy cardboard slipcase. There are seven 50GB discs in all, with the first two keepcases housing Seasons 1 and 2, respectively (three discs per case), and the final keepcase housing the lone Special Features disc, along with an insert advertising the Gravity Falls book series. The reverse side of each keepcase's slick (seen from the inside of the case) has a list of episodes and a short synopsis of each (with a list of Special Features in the third keepcase). The slipcase itself also has an insert: A note to Dipper (inside of an envelope) signed by most of the series' characters. There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the discs, whose main menu features an animated still and menu selections towards the center of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A locked.
Gravity Falls is traditional 2D animation and is presented on Blu-ray in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The transfers of these animated episodes are stunningly beautiful, with bright colors, lots of HD "pop", and no banding or aliasing issues to be found. Black levels are nice and deep as well. Despite the rather standard method of animation used (this was, after all, made for television and limited to both the budget and the time crunch of a TV series), these shows look beautiful and have a look and style I really enjoyed.
The disc offers up two DTS-HD Master Audio English tracks for each episode, one in 5.1 and one in 2.0. The 2.0 tracks are actually the default on each disc's audio menu, and there's a reason for this. While the 5.1 tracks' use of the surrounds enhance the audio somewhat, the audio is really designed for 2.0 listening, and I recommend just going with those, as even the 5.1 tracks heavily favor the front speakers, with the rears only used to mildly enhance some of the music and background noises.
Dialogue on both the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks is front and center but also clear and crisp. All in all, these are excellent audio renderings of the series – perhaps not as flashy as some other animated series, but completely glitch-free and well-rendered.
Subtitles are available in English SDH only.
Like a shooting star, Gravity Falls burned bright for 40 episodes then vanished. But what was created in those two seasons remains one of the best animated series in recent memory – full of humor and imagination. This Shout! Factory set does the show justice, with great transfers, quality audio, and enough bonus materials to keep fans entertained long after they've finished watching (and re-watching) the episodes. This is one of the best boxed-sets of 2018. Must Own.