The Rocketeer: An Underappreciated Superhero Story – Disney+ Review (Day 13)

I take a look at a movie I loved from my childhood that wasn’t quite right for its time period.

SUMMARY

Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a pilot in 1938. While testing a new plane, he accidentally encounters a car chase between the FBI and the mobsters of Eddie Valentine’s (Paul Sorvino) gang, resulting in the plane being hit by gunfire and crashing. When he and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) return to their hangar, they discover that one of the mobsters hid their loot there: A prototype jetpack designed by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn). It turns out that the mobsters had been hired by swashbuckling film star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) who sends his giant henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor) to find the missing rocket. By coincidence, Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) is set to be a bit part in Sinclair’s next film. When Cliff, apologizing for a recent fight, comes to talk to her, Sinclair overhears him mention the rocket. 

It was a bad crash.

At a local air show, Cliff uses the rocket pack and a finned helmet designed by Peevy to rescue another pilot, leading the press to dub him “The Rocketeer.” However, this alerts Sinclair, the FBI, Hughes, and the Mob that the rocket has been found. Lothar kills Cliff’s employer Otis Bigelow (Jon Polito) and attacks Cliff and Peevy. The FBI arrives and drives Lothar off, but Lothar steals Peevy’s schematics for the rocket. Cliff and Peevy try to hide at a diner, but the mobsters find the pair. They discover that Sinclair is taking Jenny to dinner and leave to attack the pair, with Cliff following by rocket. However, the rocket was damaged, so Peevy patches it with a piece of Cliff’s lucky gum. 

Lothar is one of the most ridiculous and awesome parts of this film.

Cliff tries to get Jenny away from Sinclair, but the Mob arrives and Sinclair kidnaps her. At his home, Jenny discovers that Sinclair is actually a Nazi sleeper agent. The FBI pick up Cliff and Peevy and introduce them to Hughes, who informs the pair that the Nazis have plans to build an army of jetpacks, but have so far been unable to develop a successful prototype. Hughes demands the rocket back, but Cliff escapes and confronts Sinclair and the Mob. However, Sinclair is surprised when Valentine and his goons immediately switch sides due to their patriotism. German forces surround the group, but the FBI arrives and the combined forces of the mafia and the Feds drive Sinclair onto a Nazi blimp. Cliff flies to the blimp and fights the Nazis. Ultimately, he rigs the rocket to explode by removing the gum after handing it over to Sinclair. Sinclair explodes, destroying the LAND from the HOLLYWOODLAND sign, and Jenny and Cliff are saved by Peevy and Hughes. Later, Peevy finds his blueprints and decides that he could build another rocket pack. 

END SUMMARY

This one was picked by one of my cousins (the one I’m closest to), because my brother could not be trusted to give a suggestion that wasn’t “Debbie Does Dallas” (which he suggested 3 times). I could have asked my sister, but as she was slightly older than me, we didn’t watch a lot of movies together. Also, I already did Dirty Dancing. When we were little, my cousin and I would watch this film all the time and it’s still one of my favorite memories, so I think this was appropriate for the category. The only movie that was more appropriate was already selected for later this week. 

I always wanted to see the movie Dalton was making in this.

This film is the pinnacle of “should have worked.” When I rewatched it for this challenge and tried to be a little more objective, I realized that there were definitely flaws in the movie, but not enough that it should have been the “flop” that Disney seemed to judge it to be. I think it’s less to do with the movie and more to do with when it was released. See, this movie came out in 1991, shortly after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze came out and the week after Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This means that the little kids had a movie they’d rather see (this was the height of Turtlemania) and the older kids had a movie they’d rather see. This movie was not quite as lighthearted as the former, nor as dark as the latter, and not attached to an existing property like either one of those. 

The movie didn’t have enough Rocket Car.

The strange thing is that the tone of this film is very similar to the tone of the early Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. It has a number of legitimately dark moments, usually involving Lothar and his tendency to mangle people, but largely has a hefty dose of quippy comedy lines combined with some slapstick to keep it light. Add in the 1930s setting and the Nazi enemies and the film actually feels pretty similar to Captain America: The First Avenger mixed with the classic Pulp Serials of the 1930s. Given that The First Avenger was directed by the same person that made this movie, that really is understandable. It’s definitely a popcorn movie, even compared to the MCU, but it’s still a fun film if you’re willing to just enjoy the camp.

The “this is my new symbol” moment.

Cliff is a likable protagonist, although he tends to suffer a bit due to his blandness. While I know people probably blame Billy Campbell for that, it’s more the fact that his character is a little too good at times. Yes, he’s a little selfish and forgettable, but he always has an “aw, shucks” aspect that keeps him pretty monotone. Jennifer Connelly’s role is similar, and she suffers a little bit of damsel syndrome, lacking almost any active control over her story arc. Alan Arkin’s Peevy is a memorable part of the movie and he’s such a good actor that he manages to perfectly blend the comic relief, tech genius, and elderly mentor roles into one solid character. However, I think the most notable part of the film is Timothy Dalton. Dalton absolutely chews the scenery in the best way possible as a pastiche of Errol Flynn, but then, when his actual allegiances are present, he starts being the over-the-top mustache-twirling Nazi you want in a movie. 

He threatens Paul Sorvino with a sword, which is a baller move.

The special effects in the film haven’t aged great, but they don’t take you out of the movie. Some of the uses of the rocket are pretty clever and they make for great sight gags. The backgrounds and sets in the movie all seem a little intentionally cheap as a tribute to old-school films, but they’re still stylistically appropriate.  

Has a great “rah-rah, America” moment. Cuz Nazis suck.

There are a few flaws in the movie, though. First, some of the jokes or the killings are a little more “adult” than the rest of the movie. Not that they’d be out of place in most modern superhero films, but for this time period they were not typical. Second, the film is a bit too long. It’s 108 minutes and, honestly, has a bit too much exposition. It should really be cut down to around 90 minutes. 

Overall, though, this movie was really solid and maybe even a little ahead of its time. If you didn’t watch it when you were a kid, you should watch it now.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Beauty and the Beast: Still a Masterpiece – Disney+ Review (Day 1)

I revisit the first movie that I ever saw in the theater.

SUMMARY

Belle (Paige O’Hara) is an educated woman living in a village in France. Naturally, reading causes her to be ostracized. Singing about how provincial and boring the town is probably doesn’t help her reputation, either. She is constantly harassed by the local huntsman, Gaston (Richard White), whose entreaties she rebuffs. One day, her father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), goes to a fair to showcase his invention, but gets lost on the way back. He seeks refuge in a castle, but it turns out the castle is owned by a Beast (Robby Benson), who imprisons Maurice for trespassing. The Beast is, in fact, a prince who was turned into a monster for refusing to give shelter to a disguised witch when he was eleven. Yes, when he was eleven, an age which isn’t an adult even by ancient standards, but apparently is legally competent if you’re a tricky witch. The Beast was given until a magical rose wilts to learn to love someone and earn love in return.

Who’s a cursed boy? You are! You are!

Belle ventures out to try and find her father and the Beast agrees to release Maurice if Belle becomes his prisoner. She agrees to the switch, which is good for the plot. The Beast gives her a room that is likely larger than her entire former house and doesn’t smell as much like an old Frenchman. The Beast’s staff, who are similarly cursed, because that’s totally fair, attend to her needs. The staff consists chiefly of Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), the clock and majordomo, Lumière (Jerry Orbach), the candelabra maître d’hôtel, Mrs. Potts (Angela “I love her so much” Landsbury), the teapot cook, and Chip Potts (Bradley Pierce), her chipped teacup son. Yes, those were their names before they got transformed, so I guess the curse has a sense of humor. Bad luck for Monsieur Latrinè (in fairness, the name used to be Merdehouse).  

There’s also a feather duster who didn’t merit a name in the film.

While Belle gets along with the staff, she enrages Beast by wandering into the forbidden West Wing and finding the rose. Beast yells at her, so she flees the castle, getting attacked by wolves in the process. Beast saves her from the wolf pack, and the two end up finally bonding as he shows his gentle side. Or as the Stockholm Syndrome sets in, depending on your point of view. At the same time, Maurice has tried to convince people that Belle is captive, but they dismiss him as crazy. Gaston uses his apparent insanity as part of a plan, bribing the local warden of the insane asylum, Monsieur D’Arque (Tony “I was also Frollo” Jay), into committing Maurice. However, Maurice sets off for the castle to rescue Belle before he can be committed. The fact that no one seems to notice that Belle has been missing this whole time is very concerning. 

Monsieur D’Arque was probably never going to be a good guy.

After having a romantic evening with the Beast containing a song that will make me a little misty anytime I hear it, Belle sees Maurice lost in the woods. Beast lets her go save him, giving her a magic mirror as a gift. When she rescues him and takes him home, Gaston tries to imprison Maurice as leverage to convince Belle to marry him, but Belle uses the mirror to prove that Maurice is sane. Also, magic is real, which should be a bigger deal than it is in the film. Gaston and his sidekick Lefou (Jesse Corti) rally the locals into a mob to kill the Beast while trapping Belle. She escapes and heads to the castle while the servants fight off the mob, and the Wardrobe (Jo Anne Worley) murders a man and I don’t feel like that’s addressed enough. Gaston confronts the Beast, but after Belle comes back, Beast wins the fight. After Beast spares him, Gaston stabs him and falls off a roof to his death. Beast dies in Belle’s arms, but because this is a Disney movie, her love (and also magic) brings him back as a human. They get married, and no one ever mentions that the Beast’s name is Adam.

The bad guy has the black horse with red eyes. Man, if only life was this simple.

END SUMMARY

I should clarify that this is the first movie I made it all the way through in theaters. I did try to go to other ones, but I mean, I was four and kids are dumb. I think the fact that this is the first movie that I actually sat through is a big part of why I am so enamored with the power of cinema. I have watched this movie at almost every stage of my life, from child to adolescent to adult to cancer patient to broken soul in the shape of a man to adult again, and this movie has never been anything less than a masterpiece.

I left Ernest Scared Stupid because of the child murder. Again, four.

This was the first animated film to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out other contenders like Thelma & Louise, City Slickers, Terminator 2, Doc Hollywood, Barton Fink, The Fisher King, Fried Green Tomatoes, and, of course, Highlander II. It was one of the most pronounced times since the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that critics were really forced to acknowledge that animation can be an art form for everyone, not just for children. In a few years, Toy Story and Pixar’s revolution would follow, which would eventually lead to the creation of the Best Animated Film Oscar, but even that would not have likely happened if this film had not used computer aided drawing through the CAPS (Computer Animated Production System) program created by Pixar. The ballroom scene involved heavy use of computers and that sequence proved the use of CGI as a way to create bigger and more impressive effects than would be possible using traditional animation for the same budget.

Yeah, CGI has come a long way, but this is still a great use of it.

Actually, budgeting was a major concern for this film, because it had been stalling since the 1950s when Walt Disney first tried to make it work. After Who Framed Roger Rabbit finally started to revitalize the Disney animated division in 1987, the film was put back into production, but as a non-musical film. After they worked on it for over a year, Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered it scrapped and told the team to start over. This led to the previous director, Richard Purdum, to leave the project. Now having already hemorrhaged money, Katzenberg demanded that the film be a musical like The Little Mermaid and put Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise in as directors. To give you an idea of how crazy a move this was, their only prior directing experience was doing the animation for “Cranium Command” at EPCOT. Now, to cap it off, they were ordered to finish the movie in 2 years, because Disney slotted four years for production and had already used two up on the rejected version of the film, and using the same budget that had already been half-spent by the last crew. Producing a movie of this caliber out of these circumstances is like being called in as a first-time designated hitter in the world series, told you’re down by three in the bottom of the ninth and hitting a grand slam with a wiffle bat.

I’d put this in a museum, and they said this was the rushed production.

That’s enough background, let’s get to the movie itself. This story is, as the song famously says, a tale as old as time. Before this film came out there were multiple versions of Beauty and the Beast on film and television, including Jean Cocteau’s famously surreal 1946 rendition from which the Disney movie borrows heavily. Despite the number of adaptations, this tends to always be seen as the quintessential telling of the story, and I think it’s actually the changes that this version made to the characters that really make it stand out. 

Not having hands everywhere was a good change, although I love Cocteau.

First, all of the supporting characters have big, bold personalities. While several versions of the story describe Beast as having magical attendants, they’re usually depicted as silent magical spirits, whereas this film gives them all distinct personas. Lumiere is the aggressive and passionate one, Cogsworth is the worrywort, and Mrs. Potts is the mother figure. They all come across as the kind of people that would feel dedicated to looking over the Prince lovingly, even after they were stuck in this situation for ten years. Similarly, Maurice comes across as a quirky person but a loving father and a kind soul, despite his limited screen time. 

Animation makes visual storytelling easier, but it still takes talent to pull off.

Then there’s the bad guy. Gaston provides a villain with one of the most detestable personalities out there: Someone who has never been told no and refuses to hear it. He could literally have all three Bimbettes (yes, that’s what they’re called, don’t blame me), but instead he refuses to have anything less than the most beautiful woman in town, despite the fact that they have nothing in common. It’s even worse because Gaston IS actually good at hunting and providing, something that would make him celebrated during that time period, as the film points out. Gaston can have anything except Belle, which, of course, makes him more of a d*ck for going to such lengths to get her. He is a great addition to the story, because you probably know someone like that. 

Replace “eggs” with “whey protein” and you definitely know him.

The main characters, too, are different than in any portrayal I’ve seen before this one. In both the original story and Cocteau’s version, the Beast is a gentleman who attempts to woo Belle with his wealth and lavish lifestyle, something that she reciprocates. In this version, the Beast is not initially a kind person, but is in fact bitter and temperamental. Given that he was cursed when he was eleven (no, I’m not letting this go), this may be justified, but these flaws make the love story even stronger because he is the one who has to change inside as opposed to the burden being just on Belle to look past his outer appearance. He has to learn to care about something beyond himself.

He’s also a bit insecure. Can’t imagine why.

Belle, while she does initially recoil from his appearance, quickly gets past that and instead is more focused on how he treats her. As opposed to just being overwhelmed by materialism or pining for a prince like her traditional counterparts, Belle in this version is focused on adventure. While people may point out that she doesn’t end up traveling to the “great wide somewhere,” but instead marrying a prince and living in a castle like 20 miles from her house, I would point out that she’s still in a magical castle finding a connection with a cursed prince, which is still a freaking adventure plotline. Part of her journey is realizing that adventures don’t all have to be grand journeys, but can be found in just recognizing the truth within another person. Plus, she has the most outspoken and independent personality of any female lead in a Disney movie up until that point (including Ariel) and never really dreamed of finding a man. Instead, she dreamed of being part of a great story, which is what she gets. Compared to the previous versions, having a Belle who is more focused on the internal than the external is a massive step-up in protagonist. While she’s not the pinnacle of self-actualized lead (I mean, there’s still the Stockholm Syndrome discussion everywhere), she still set the stage for many more empowered women to come.

You couldn’t start one book club in a town that can sustain a book lender?

The music of the movie is… well, it’s Ashman and Menken, so it was always going to be good, but this movie contains as many iconic and memorable songs as any Disney film. “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast,” are all perpetually played at Disney parks and are the subject of numerous covers and parodies. I imagine there are not a ton of people out there who have never heard at least some version of the songs in their lives. The ballroom scene would not have its grandeur without the song accompaniment. At the Oscars, Beauty and the Beast got 3 of the 5 nominations for best song. However, I want to point out that it’s not just the songs that this movie nails, but also the score. The movie consistently uses the score to heighten the tension and, given that Menken composed it, it is a master class in emotional manipulation. Guess that’s why it also got him an Oscar. 

This is how you start a movie.

Overall, this movie does almost everything right. It dazzled me as much rewatching it this time as it did when I first saw it as a small child on the big screen. It’s part of why I consider animation to be a valid art form and why I love film as much as I do. It helped make me who I am, and, for that, I will forever be grateful.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Muppets Now: Slow Start, but a Lot of Promise – Disney+ Review

The first episode was rough, but it started to get back to roots as it went on.

SUMMARY

The Muppets are back and trying to break onto the internet. Muppets Now is a streaming show featuring a number of vignettes designed to replicate online shows. It’s run by Scooter (David Rudman)… poorly. Recurring segments include:

One new character is Joe, the Legal Weasel. He’s the lawyer.

“Lifesty(le)” with Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson), where the lady herself dishes out lifestyle tips; Økėÿ Døkęÿ Køøkïñ, a cooking competition between the Swedish Chef (Bill Barretta) and a special guest; Muppet Masters, in which Walter (Peter Linz) interviews the Muppets; Mup Close and Personal, in which a Muppet, sometimes Kermit (Matt Vogel), interviews a celebrity; Muppet Labs, in which Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (David Rudman and Dave Goelz) conduct science experiments; and Pepe’s Unbelievable Gameshow, featuring Pepe the Prawn (Barretta) making up the rules to humiliate and amuse. 

Yes, this is Danny Trejo hugging the Swedish Chef. It’s as awesome as you’d think.

END SUMMARY

So, the first segments of the first episode of this series were kind of a let down. The initial cooking competition with the Swedish Chef just seemed like a series of obvious jokes and the Muppet Masters discussion of Photobombing had only one joke that really made me laugh. The Lifesty(le) section was inherently a little more amusing because of the celebrities involved and the fact that Miss Piggy is always amazing. However, it really turned around a bit when Kermit the Frog was interviewing a celebrity and everything went off the rails. Despite that, I still considered the first episode a bit of a bust and I was worried for this series. It didn’t seem to have the same kind of enthusiasm that I usually expect from a Muppet production. 

It helps that the interview is RuPaul who is charming as it gets.

But when I gave the show a second chance, I found that it did start to regain that wonderful blend of childish and adult humor, but with a more modern touch. The show is trying to adapt itself to the modern world, where people tend to want to consume more short-form media, by focusing more directly on short vignettes than having an overarching narrative. Moreover, each of the segments is a parody of an existing style of content, ranging from the personal interview show to the cooking competition to the science experiment web series. Having the Muppets enter into these well established frameworks not only adds a level of natural insanity to it, but allows them to add a level of cynicism at times without it becoming inherently dark or mean-spirited. For example, a big part of Pepe’s Gameshow is Pepe arbitrarily humiliating the guests and Scooter, his co-host. If it were coming from a person, it would seem cruel, but coming from a tiny King Prawn puppet, it comes off as hilarious.

Piggy can be brutal.

Overall, while this isn’t the apex of a Muppets series, it does have a lot of potential, particularly since it’s only got one six episode season and time to learn from what does and doesn’t work before the next one.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Disney+ Review – Artemis Fowl: How Did This Fail So Hard?

Seriously, there’s dropping the ball then there’s firing it into the ground and trying to hit magma.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free, but who cares)

Artemis Fowl, Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12 year old supergenius son of Artemis Fowl, Sr. (Colin Farrell), a wealthy businessman and folk tale aficionado. One day, the older Artemis goes missing, having been accused of stealing a number of artifacts, and the younger one gets a call from his abductor, Opal Koboi (Hong Chau). It turns out Artemis had stolen a rare magical item called the Aculos. Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie), the Fowl family butler, reveals to Artemis that the Fowls have been dealing with magical creatures for generations. Artemis will have to deal with fairy police officers Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and Julius Root (Dame Judi Dench), a giant dwarf named Mulch (Josh Gad), and other magical troubles to get his dad back with the help of Domovoi and Juliet Butler (Tamara Smart), Dom’s niece and Artemis’s best friend.

Remember when this outfit didn’t help the kid in Blues Brothers 2000?

END SUMMARY

This movie sucks. 

I have been told by a few parents who watched this movie that their small children enjoyed the film, but I have a difficult time believing anyone who has gotten to middle school will find any happiness in this experience. It suffers from some of the worst flaws you can find in the cinema.

Not least of which being generic costuming.

First, it’s a lot of tell, not show. The entire movie is narrated by Josh Gad’s character, who apparently is the mega hype man for Artemis Fowl, so rather than actually see Artemis be smart, we’re just told that he’s the smartest person on the planet. Despite that, he chooses to say that he knows everything more often than he actually uses that knowledge. 

Second, it’s unbelievably boring. If you’re not going to focus solely on action, then people need a reason to focus on dialogue or plot development. Here, there are a lot of sequences of people having conversations in which the audience has no vested interest. Saying that a character’s dad died doesn’t make it tragic unless we have a feeling as to what everyone’s emotional connection to them was. 

If you can’t get Judi Dench to be riveting, you need to burn the script.

Third, the acting wasn’t able to overcome weak characterizations. The lead isn’t strong enough to sustain the focus, the supporting characters aren’t strong enough to buoy the soft parts, and the villain is mostly non-existent within the film. It mostly hurts that they changed Artemis Fowl from the underaged head of a criminal empire to a generic child hero. Having a cold antihero as the lead can at least force some memorable performances, but the version of Artemis from this movie could have been pulled from half a dozen other movies. 

Last, the plot sucks. It’s way too convoluted while not being as smart as the film wants it to be. The fact that Artemis Sr has been kidnapped doesn’t really have that much bearing on the actions of the fairy forces attacking Artemis Jr, which make up most of the movie. It’s tangentially connected, because they’re related to the same item, but the whole film feels disjointed.

And there are like 3 subplots that amount to nothing.

I spent much of the movie wondering if you can even do an adaptation of Artemis Fowl to begin with. The project languished in Development Hell for 18 years, following the first book’s popularity and riding off of the Harry Potter young adult lit boom. This film tried to combine two books, similar to what the Jim Carrey A Series of Unfortunate Events film did, but the thing about Artemis Fowl is that a lot of the book is pretty intricate in how it represents Artemis and crew, which allows for more development of their reputations and capabilities. Also, they tried to make Artemis athletic in this film, something that he mostly averts in the original story, which, again, seems like more of a generic child hero than the character in the book. Honestly, a major studio probably just can’t make a children’s film with a morally conflicted lead.

Overall, avoid this movie. I’m sorry, guys, but maybe if this fails the way it should, someone will finally green light it as a TV series, which is probably a better way to handle the novels.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Disney+ Op-Ed – Why Everyone Should Watch Gravity Falls

Give me 5 minutes to change your life.

SUMMARY 

12-year-old twins Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) are sent to spend the summer with their great-uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Stan manages the local tourist trap the Mystery Shack, staffed by Soos Ramirez (Also Alex Hirsch) and Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini). It turns out that Gravity Falls is no sleepy little town, but is filled with monsters, mermen, mayhem, and madness… which makes for the best Summer ever.

Question Mark, Pine Tree, Weird Fish, Shooting Star, Too Cool to Have a Symbol

END SUMMARY

So, to try and do something different this month, I’m going to spend each Sunday talking about a show that I think everyone should watch. Since I want them to be as broad as possible, every entry is going to be a show that I think works for both kids and adults, and is a show that I think works to try and make the audience better people, rather than just targets for entertainment. Despite what many people will insist, people, especially kids, are massively impacted by the kind of media they consume, and I wanted to shout out shows that I think help the world in different ways. Since this show is both the shortest of the four and the only one which I will insist has no “bad” episodes that should be skipped, I’m putting it up front.

The lowest-rated episode of this show has Lance Bass voice an entire boy band. Awesome.

Gravity Falls is not the most well-known show, but it deserves to be, and thanks to Disney now having a streaming service, it can get the attention it merits. It’s a show that has a pilot containing what I think is one of the most brilliant subversions in TV history and just keeps getting better from there, culminating in an unbelievably powerful series finale which features one of the most terrifying villains that you could put into a show that can be shown to children. I’d previously said as much when I added an episode of this show to my list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time that started this blog. That episode actually pretty much crystallizes what this show does better than almost any kids show, or most shows in general: connections.

Mabel says: Hugs are a good sign of connecting.

The show starts off with Mabel and Dipper, who, being twins, are naturally close despite their opposing personalities. Dipper is an introvert who often gets too caught up in his head, while Mabel is an extrovert who often has trouble bonding with people due to her eccentricities. Stan, the person that they’re forced to interact with, is an abrasive jerk who lives off of scamming people. Then we get Wendy, the cool and aloof girl who never seems to really connect with anyone beyond casual acquaintance, and Soos, the awkward people pleaser who is a little bit childish for a 22 year old. No matter who you are, you will see some, or a lot, of yourself in one of the main characters, because they’re all so well-developed that they seem completely human despite their exaggerated natures. That’s why it’s so much more powerful to see how these characters interact with each other and with the rest of the people in Gravity Falls. As the show progresses, all of these connections grow stronger, culminating in a finale where one of the only things that ends up saving the day is how the people of the town are able to come together, even characters that had formerly been rivals or even enemies.

Invite some strangers to a party. Sometimes it stops ghosts.

Gravity Falls also distinguishes itself in that the heroes’ powers are not being the strongest or the fastest, but instead being the smartest and the most caring. Dipper is dedicated to finding out the truth behind things, even if the truth is hard to accept. Mabel, on the other hand, doesn’t need to look into things, she just tries to make everyone her friend. In the most powerful moment in the show, she looks into the eyes of a person who has seemingly lying to her the entire time she knew them, and risks her own to trust them. There is an entire episode dedicated to building up to Mabel choosing to believe in someone, to put her faith in the goodness of another, despite the fact that she can’t even articulate why. Almost everything else in the world nowadays seems to speak to the opposite, that nobody is really worth trusting, that everyone is out for themselves, but I will always applaud this show for trying to remind us that humans got where we are by trusting others, and we will get further if we continue to do so. It takes strength and bravery to put your trust in someone, but everyone has it within them to do so. Be stronger, trust more. 

Mabel is the strongest of us all.

Beyond the message, the show decided to try and give its audience something to do in their off-hours, containing a number of puzzles throughout the series, including having an encrypted message at the end of every episode and an entire cipher language, similar to Futurama. Moreover, the ciphers get more complicated as the show goes on, going from a simple substitution all the way to a vigenère keyword cipher with hidden keywords throughout the show. Few shows ever try to make part of the enjoyment of the show having to think about it more and comb through scenes looking for keywords or backwards messages, but Gravity Falls made it so fun that they eventually did an international scavenger hunt at the end of the series. It’s a show that helps you get better at puzzle solving and logic, something that benefits everyone. 

This puzzle is supposed to be sung to the Sailor Moon theme.

Aside from the great stuff the series does for you, Gravity Falls is just so easy to watch. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s animated well, and it has Kristen Schaal shouting “GRAPPLING HOOK!” What more could you want? 

A small child has a grappling hook. You can’t do better than this.

Look, part of why I started this blog was to convince people that there are episodes of television out there that can help them grow. This show is filled with them. Please, no matter who you are, give it a try.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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