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Gravity Falls: Volume 1 - Six Strange tales DVD Review

Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales (2012)
Show & DVD Details

Running Time: 130 Minutes (6 episodes) / Rating: TV-Y7

Creator/Executive Producer: Alex Hirsch / Writers: Alex Hirsch, Michael Rianda, Aury Wallington, Zach Paez, Tim McKeon / Directors: John Aoshima, Aaron Springer, Joe Pitt

Regular Voice Cast: Kristen Schaal (Mabel Pines), Jason Morgan (Dipper Pines), Alex Hirsch (Grunkle Stan Pines, Soos), Linda Cardellini (Wendy Corduroy)

Recurring Characters: Kevin Michael Richardson (Sheriff Blubs), Gregg Turkington (Toby Determined), Keith Ferguson (Deputy Durland), John DiMaggio (Manly Dan), Will Forte (Cute Biker)

Notable Guest Voices: Coolio (Wax Coolio), Larry King (Wax Larry King), John Oliver (Wax Sherlock Holmes), Stephen Root (Bud Gleeful), Thurop Van Orman (Lil Gideon), Ken Jenkins (Old Man Ghost), Michael Rianda (Lee, Thompson), Jessica DiCicco (Tambry), T.J. Miller (Robbie), April Winchell (Old Woman Ghost), Jennifer Coolidge (Lazy Susan), Alfred Molina (Multi-Bear), Fred Tatsciore (Pituitor)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Malay / Closed Captioned
Episodes Originally Aired June 15 - July 20, 2012
DVD Release Date: October 15, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Instant Video HD

Buy Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video Instant Video HD

With the ongoing, irreversible decline in disc sales, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment's output has slowed to a crawl. Comprising that crawl is a mix of new theatrical releases, many of them behemothic per the company's branding plan; evergreen animated classics; and recent television programming. Much of the Disney TV that makes it to DVD these days is released in September and hails from ABC. But the studio has also managed to maintain a trickle of youth-oriented compilations:
Disney Jr. shows for tots, Disney Channel ones for kids and tweens. The animated series "Gravity Falls" falls into the latter group and it gets its first DVD release on Tuesday, titled Six Strange Tales.

"Gravity" carries a TV-Y7 rating, indicating an audience of children ages 7 and up, as opposed to the general audience targeted by the TV-G "Phineas and Ferb." But the line separating the two is fine and blurred and there's plenty here to entertain teens and adults who haven't grown averse to television cartoons.

The series moves two pre-teen twins -- cheery, optimistic Mabel (voiced by a perfectly-cast Kristen Schaal) and suspicious, worrisome Dipper (Jason Ritter) -- from the city to the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. There, they live with their gruff but loving great-uncle, "Grunkle" Stan (series creator Alex Hirsch) and work at his business, a tourist trap called the Mystery Shack.

Life brings 12-year-old siblings Mabel and Dipper to Gravity Falls, Oregon in the Disney Channel animated series "Gravity Falls."

Though the Mystery Shack does not seem to offer its guests anything out of the ordinary, Gravity Falls does. The first episode has Dipper finding a journal full of the town's strange secrets and the warning to "trust no one." Its passages on local oddities like zombies and gnomes guide Dipper and Mabel through solving the mysteries that arise, though they're usually still taken by surprise.

The show's design is reminiscent of "Eerie, Indiana", the short-lived but fondly-remembered early '90s live-action NBC series. Animation lends to depicting the fantastic and otherworldly. It's refreshing to find a Disney Channel cartoon that isn't dripping with irony and a self-aware sense of humor.
Rather than relying on bizarre characters with secret lives, "Gravity Falls" instead succeeds on genuine wit and creativity. It's funny and appropriately weird, both more so than you expect for a show whose rating begins with "TV-Y."

Lone creator/executive producer Alex Hirsch brings unusual care and freshness to this series, which premiered three days before his 27th birthday. His youth, uncommon for the medium, is an asset, narrowing the gap between the producer and audience. It feels like Hirsch could be writing the show purely for himself and his friends, instead of trying to cater to the tastes of today's children and rely on proven formulas. The show never loses sight of its evolving mythology or its supporting cast of local residents. There is some danger of Hirsch being stretched too thin, as the only episode that doesn't credit him as writer here is easily the disc's weakest. But as production progresses at its own pace (Season 1's finale just finally aired this past August) and Hirsch remains content to end the show before it gets stale, there seems to be a legitimate chance that the show's charm doesn't run out or get lost in over-franchising.

The best thing about Six Strange Tales is that it holds the first six of the show's twenty episodes aired to date. A spine proclaims this release Volume 1. As "Gummi Bears" fans could tell you, that doesn't always guarantee a Volume 2. Still, there is at least the potential for the entire series to be released in this fashion, assuming sales meets Disney's lofty expectations.

Watch a clip from "Tourist Trapped", the first episode of "Gravity Falls":

Here's a closer look at the show's first half-dozen episodes presented here:

The ordinarily easygoing Mabel is not cool with the gnomes' plan to make her their wife. The Gobblewonker sneaks up on Dipper as he fidgets with a disposable camera.

1. Tourist Trapped (21:04) (Originally aired June 15, 2012)
Dipper fears that Mabel's new boyfriend "Norman" is a zombie, but in fact, "he" is a quintet of gnomes.

2. The Legend of the Gobblewonker (21:32) (Originally aired June 29, 2012)
Dipper and Mabel ditch Grunkle Stan on Family Fun Day to try to snag a photo of a monster to win a $1,000 prize.

3. Headhunters (21:55) (Originally aired June 30, 2012)
Stan reopens the wax museum, but a murder mystery emerges when Mabel's new sculpture of Stan is beheaded.

4. The Hand That Rocks the Mabel (22:19) (Originally aired July 6, 2012)
Mabel finds it difficult to turn down the advances of Lil Gideon, Grunkle Stan's diminutive rival psychic.

5. The Inconveniencing (20:27) (Originally aired July 13, 2012)
Dipper and Mabel hang out with co-worker Wendy and her teenage friends, breaking in to an abandoned convenience store that may be haunted.

6. Dipper vs. Manliness (22:34) (Originally aired July 20, 2012)
Minotaurs help Dipper uncover his manly side. Mabel helps Stan attract his crush, diner waitress Lazy Susan.

Mabel is just not that into Lil Gideon. Minotaurs attempt to school Dipper in manliness.

VIDEO and AUDIO

On DVD, "Gravity Falls" is treated to pretty great picture. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video is only prone to some shimmering (on which your mileage may vary) and some faint ringing around its edges. Par for the course, the animation is fairly limited and the designs quite simple, thus posing few problems for the reasonable standard definition compression.

The sound is solid but one wishes the show made full use of 5.1 sound it must be produced in, instead of these basic Dolby 2.0 presentations. Interestingly, though the case doesn't mention it, the disc includes some foreign language and subtitle options beyond Disney's three standards. The downside to that is that if you missed a line and want to check the English SDH subtitles, you'll have to cycle through another 15 streams to turn them off.

Dipper and Mabel sit in their Grunkle's Mystery Shack on the Six Strange Tales DVD's animated main menu. Mabel and Dipper demonstrate their differing personalities on the episode selection menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only real bonus feature is found not on the disc but inside the keepcase.
It's a nifty booklet that tastefully reproduces what viewers of the first episode will recognize as Mystery Book Journal #3. It features scribblings, illustrations, and a Gravity Falls reference map.

The keepcase, whose disc is a bland gray, is topped by an extensively embossed slipcover. Other inserts inside the uncut black Eco-Box promote Disney Movie Club and supply your Disney Movie Rewards code.

The main menu animates the cast while the theme music plays.

The FastPlay-enhanced disc opens with trailers for Monsters University and Planes. Its additional Sneak Peeks promote Disney Movie Rewards, "Avengers Assemble", Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, and Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition.

Grunkle Stan is upset to be ditched on Family Fun Day. Dipper tries to act cool in front of his teenaged co-worker and crush Wendy in "The Inconveniencing."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Gravity Falls" is unexpectedly the most entertaining Disney Channel series I've encountered in a very long time. Six Strange Tales marks a promising DVD debut for the show, holding the first six episodes. Obviously, complete season sets would be easier to buy and a better value but Disney knows the allure of this low price point and in today's market, this sadly appears to be the most viable way to release "Gravity" to disc.

Support this site and Gravity Falls when you buy Six Strange Tales on DVD now at Amazon.com

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Reviewed October 14, 2013.



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