Brimming with colorful characters, a knack for pinpointing relatable anxieties that come with growing up, and an all-encompassing mysterious atmosphere, Disney XD’s "Gravity Falls" made a big splash when it premiered in 2012. The show features fraternal twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend the summer with their great-uncle ("Grunkle") Stan at the Mystery Shack, a secluded house of cheap attractions that excites (and scams) locals and tourists alike. However, the town hides a number of supernatural and science-fiction secrets, all alluded to in a mysterious journal that Dipper happens upon one day.
Despite being an animated television show intended for children, "Gravity Falls" is a hidden gem for all ages that has maintained a very active adult fanbase. How? Well, it seems the show’s writers had a decent working hypothesis that they put forth during a rather meta moment in the episode "Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons." As Grunkle Stan remarks when defending his taste in kids’ television shows, "I’ll have you know that ‘Ducktective’ has a big mystery element and a lot of humor that goes over kids’ heads!"
Applying that line to "Gravity Falls," the uninitiated would doubtless wonder what kinds of things older viewers may notice in the Disney XD series that younger viewers may not. Its avid adult fanbase is into something: Here’s a list of gems and oddities that can be discovered throughout the show by discerning viewers.
The showrunners hid secret messages
While several television shows change up their opening sequences as they go on, "Gravity Falls" largely keeps its intro the same across its two seasons. Granted, a shortened version plays before some episodes, but it doesn’t add anything new. However, while the show’s theme song and accompanying visuals are pretty reliably the same from episode to episode, there is one element that changes substantially: the vocals.
At the end of each intro sequence, a few lines of backward speech offer clues to savvy listeners about how to solve the cryptic strings of characters that appear at the ends of many episodes. The different ciphers (which are used in the real world) needed to decode the messages are listed on Screenrant: the Caesar cipher, the Atbash cipher, the A1Z26 cipher, and the Vigenère cipher.
While kids may find reversing audio and entering the field of amateur cryptography a bit daunting, adults who do so with "Gravity Falls" will be treated to everything from fun messages about an episode, to ominous teasers about impending plot points, to a message from the series’ creator to his sister.
Gravity Falls foreshadows global warming with an interdimensional baby
In the episode "Irrational Treasure," after Pacifica Northwest makes an announcement on Gravity Falls’ annual Pioneer Day commemorating her ancestor as the town’s original founder, Dipper remembers a passage from the journal that casts doubt on that claim. The kids find a series of clues that seem to lead to a revelation: The founder of their town was actually the eighth-and-a-half U.S. President, Quentin Trembly.
This information is revealed in an official government memo the kids get their hands on, but that tidbit isn’t the only historical truth on the page. Though it’s only shown briefly, the memo further reveals that, among other things, Thomas Jefferson was actually two kids in an overcoat, and Santa Claus is secretly the true, perpetual President of the US.
Most concerning is the revelation that an "evil, time-devouring baby … is frozen in an Antarctic glacier. Fortunately glaciers never melt, so we should be fine." While kids may not understand this as foreshadowing for the Time Baby that appears multiple times throughout the series, adults familiar with the realities of climate change will certainly recognize the fragility of the assumption that glaciers never melt. The fact that the Time Baby shows up multiple times in the show is a veiled implication that sometime in the future, the glacier melts, freeing the all-powerful infant to traverse time and space.
The Gravity Falls sheriff and his deputy are a couple
The town of Gravity Falls has an endearing catalogue of residents. Some of the most frequently-reappearing side characters are the town’s only police officers, Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland. The pair are always seen together both on the clock and off. It’s plain to see that they aren’t just coworkers; they’re best friends, too. But what may seem like simple camaraderie for younger viewers is plain as day to everyone else: The two are a couple.
While it is never spoken or otherwise confirmed outrightly in the show until the final episode, the chemistry and flat-out infatuation that Blubs and Durland have for each other is palpable in almost every interaction. For instance, in "Carpet Diem" when the pair witness Old Man McGucket chasing a talking pig, Blubs claims that his horoscope for the day has come true. Excited, Durland asks for his horoscope to be read, only for Blubs to ask if he’s a Gemini.
Bashful with the realization that his partner remembered such a detail, Durland asks, "You knew?" Blubs smiles and puts a reassuring hand around his shoulder as he says, "Of course I knew." The two not only seem like they are always having a blast with each other when they’re together, they openly care for each other and are unafraid to do so.
Dipper and Mabel’s parents are strangely absent
The premise of "Gravity Falls" is pretty simple: A pair of twelve-year-old twins gets shipped off to their great-uncle to experience a summer of fresh air in small-town Oregon. Naturally, staying with an old curmudgeon who runs a tourist trap and regularly commits crimes tends to spice things up a bit — as, too, do the multiple encounters with the fantastical and paranormal.
Yet despite their lives being put in danger and Stan constantly making the pair do extra-legal things for him, one strange thing remains missing: Neither Dipper nor Mabel seem to ever get homesick during their whole summer. But beyond that, there is never any attempt by either twin to get in contact with their parents.
One would think that their great-uncle’s antics or their brushes with death might inspire either Mabel or Dipper to call, write, or even allude to the existence of parents who may miss them if they die or who may know more about their mysterious summer caretaker than they can figure out alone. Maybe they’re the most independent kids ever, but the situation should seem a bit odd to older viewers, especially those who have children themselves.
Mabel gets ‘the talk’ while stuck in Dipper’s body
Right after Mabel and Dipper begin to quarrel over their shared attic bedroom in the episode "Carpet Diem," Soos finds a new room hidden in the Mystery Shack that Dipper wants to move into. However, as the twins argue, the static charge built up from stepping on their rug causes them to swap bodies.
Stuck in Mabel’s body just before her friends come over for a sleepover, Dipper is carried off into the twins’ attic bedroom and locked in for girly fun (which, for him, is torture). Mabel, missing out, looks on through the keyhole — only to be found by Grunkle Stan.
Fearing that Dipper has reached "that creepy age where [he] spies on girls," Stan decides that there is no better time than the present to sit his great-nephew down for a serious talk. Slapping down a book titled "Why Am I Sweaty," Stan launches into the full spiel about the birds and the bees.
While this may be one of the only "caretaker-type" decisions that Stan makes over the summer, the fact that it’s actually Mabel hearing this talk makes the awkwardness tangible. Not only does she get an unasked-for low-down on why Dipper is so sweaty (and bound to get even sweatier with age), this incident likely means that Dipper, the one who actually needs it, won’t get to hear this talk. Hopefully he figures it out.
Mabel alludes to Dipper’s disturbing internet history
After Dipper finds schematics for a hiding place written in the journal in invisible ink, he recruits Soos, Mabel, and Wendy to explore the location in "Into the Bunker." As the kids delve into the depths of an underground bunker seemingly built by the journal’s author, they find decades of packaged food, a locker full of weaponry, and much more.
After finding out that a hatch leads to a barren room covered in strange runes and glyphs, Soos remarks that the room is pretty creepy. Without missing a beat, Mabel replies, "Not as creepy as Dipper’s internet history" and slaps him on the back.
While it’s true that Dipper is only 12 years old, a constant facet of his personality throughout "Gravity Falls" is his desire to grow up more quickly than he physically can. One of the key reasons he wants this? Being able to have a relationship with the much older Wendy. Considering his infatuation with an older woman and the sweaty hormones racing through his body, the question of what exactly Dipper has been searching on the internet is one scary mystery best left unsolved.
Pacífica Northwest was raised in an abusive home
While Gravity Falls’ resident rich girl Pacifica Northwest makes several appearances throughout the series, it isn’t until the episode "Northwest Mansion Noir" that Pacifica’s home life is examined in any depth. In the episode, the Northwests are preparing for a lavish party at their giant estate. The only problem is a bothersome ghost, so they recruit Dipper to eliminate it before their guests arrive.
Eventually, the ghost makes clear that the Northwests are deservedly cursed because of past selfishness and deception, and Dipper finds out that Pacifica lied to him so her family could continue living as rich elitists while sidestepping the consequences of their actions. Hurt and betrayed, Dipper confronts Pacifica and her parents; Pacifica apologizes, only to be sternly reprimanded by her parents.
But they don’t use words to do so. Instead, they ring a small bell, and Pacifica cowers in silence. While it is unclear what sort of punishment the bell signifies, the end result is plain as day: Pacifica is terrified of disobeying her parents.
The use of a bell to inspire a specific reaction seems to be a direct reference to what is known in psychology as conditioning, the most famous example of which is Ivan Pavlov training his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. While conditioning is a natural part of everyday life, using a bell to control your daughter’s every move seems extreme and abusive, especially based on Pacifica’s reaction.
Soos’ grandfather committed some sort of grave sin
In "Soos and the Real Girl," Soos’ abuelita becomes more forthright about her desire to see her grandson find a partner. After Soos’ cousin Reggie announces that he is engaged, it cannot be ignored that Soos is an incredibly single man, and it seems well past the time that he should have found at least one girlfriend.
Feeling that there is no time to lose, Abuelita jumps into action and gently pleads with him, saying, "I would like to see you settled before I ascend to heaven and live with the angels." Soos replies, "And with Grandpa!" With a sly expression, Abuelita looks down as she says, "No. He is not there."
Soos’ grandfather is clearly deceased, but if he’s not in heaven, that doesn’t leave the man many places to be. While kids may not understand exactly what is being communicated in this exchange, Abuelita’s downcast eyes say it all: Soos’ grandfather did something pretty bad to get himself sent to hell.
Stan’s stash of secret magazines
Tipped off by the energy signature put out by the portal beneath the Mystery Shack, agents of the federal government come to investigate Gravity Falls in "Scary-oke." Dipper hasn’t yet learned Stan’s practice of not talking to law enforcement and eagerly tells a pair of agents that he has been studying the mysteries of Gravity Falls and wants to talk with them about his findings. Not willing to turn down even an overly-enthusiastic, awkwardly sweaty lead, an agent gives Dipper his card.
After the agents leave, Stan confiscates the card and hides it away. Determined to collaborate with the feds in solving the mysteries presented in the journal, Dipper breaks into Stan’s bedroom to search for the card. Before stumbling upon the particular box of contraband that he’s looking for, Dipper finds several odd curios. The most noteworthy are a pair of magazines that inspire an "Ew" from the pre-teen.
The two magazines are "Lady Swimwear" and "Fully Clothed Women." Both appear to be resting atop a large number of presumably similar publications. The obvious implication is a parody of risqué publications such as "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition" and "Playboy." While the magazines in and of themselves may ring a bit odd even to children, knowing why Stan keeps them in his bedroom is what makes the scene hit differently for the grown-ups watching.
Stan offers a very specific, angry hand gesture
In "Little Gift Shop of Horrors," Stan tries to sell an assortment of items to a wayward traveler who visits the Mystery Shack after their car breaks down. As he presents each hideously expensive item, he tells the item’s (almost certainly fabricated) story and explains why it costs so much. As he holds up a severed, withered human hand with a $500 price tag on it, Stan launches into an especially harrowing tale.
After traveling to the Gravity Falls Swap Meet, Stan steals a watch from a witch despite her warning him clairvoyantly against his impending theft. Relishing his ill-gotten timepiece, Stan triumphantly returns home only to find both his hands missing the next morning. After tracking down the witch to a mountainside cave, Stan angrily asks for his hand back. His reason? He says he needs them to show her a particular hand gesture.
While it’s entirely possible that Grunkle Stan knows American Sign Language and wanted to speak to the witch while using his fingers, wrist, and thumbs to sign a message, adults can guess what he was really referring to. While Stan’s reference to flipping the bird probably went over many kids’ heads, it still provided a bit of levity and certainly fits Stan’s crotchety demeanor better than just about any other interpretation would.
There is true horror in Soos eating a man alive
In the episode "Summerween," Dipper and Mabel are threatened by an ominous, looming figure whom Soos calls the Summerween Trickster. According to Soos, the local legend lurks during the town’s extra-spooky summer celebration, eating naughty children. The figure tasks the kids with collecting 500 pieces of candy before the last jack-o-melon is extinguished.
The creature moves with an unnatural swiftness and even threateningly grows in size when confronting the kids and their lackluster candy haul. After the creature reveals its true form, an amalgamation of "loser candy" that gets thrown out after every Summerween, Soos ends up defeating the beast by eating it.
Though the children are threatened with death, the real horror of this episode is in the monster’s sentience and how Soos defeats it. At the end of the episode, Soos abruptly announces to everyone, "I ate a man alive tonight." Though he says it nonchalantly, Soos still has to reckon with the fact that he killed another sentient being by eating it while it was alive, which causes disquiet for those who grasp the reality.
Stan’s explanation for how to properly watch a horror movie
In "Little Gift Shop of Horrors," as Stan’s initial sales pitches fail and the traveler seeking refuge in the Mystery Shack is uninterested in buying either the severed human hand or Waddles, Stan tries to go for a more mainstream pick. He guides the customer to a chest, opens it, and takes out a few VHS tapes, trying to entice them with an offer on his spooky film collection.
Sensing initial hesitation, Stan tries to plug some of the extra-filmic benefits of his film, saying, "Movies are great! You watch the movie. You scare the girl. The girl snuggles up next to you." The practiced salesman smile slips from his face as if he’s remembering an unpleasant memory, and he continues, "Next thing you know, you gotta raise a kid. Your life falls apart."
Even though Stan quickly moves on to a more appropriate pitch, the meaning of his tangent is hard to ignore for most adults watching. The way he tells it, it almost seems like he’s speaking from personal experience. It makes anyone savvy to Stan’s explanation of how to watch horror movies wonder at the possibility of another Pine child wandering around the Pacific Northwest.
The Mystery Shack used to be called the Murder Hut
In "A Tale of Two Stans," we learn how Stanley took on the identity of his six-fingered brother Stanford in a convoluted story that explains many of the show’s mysteries. After Ford builds a portal to another dimension, he calls on his estranged brother as a last resort in finding trustworthy help. But they’re estranged for a reason. The two brothers begin quarreling, and Stanley accidentally sends Stanford through the active portal.
Having just magically disappeared his brother with no idea how to get him back, Stanley takes on his brother’s identity and uses his house of research materials as a tourist trap to make ends meet while he attempts to repair the portal. While Stan’s establishment has been known as the Mystery Shack since the start of the series, it’s revealed that the building was previously called the Murder Hut.
At least with his family, Stan has never been shy about his flagrant attempts to fleece people with the most sensationalist displays. So it may be possible that he was trying to drum up interest in the secluded house by alluding to a grave crime committed there. However, another possibility may be that Stan was naming his attraction based on his own prior actions and (though he wouldn’t admit it) guilt. After all, this was the site where he caused his brother to depart from this life with no plausible way of coming back.