Animated Life Lesson #5: Determination

Determination (noun) – the act of coming to a decision or of fixing or settling a purpose

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Gravity Falls is a strange and wonderful show.  Set in the titular town, the story follows Dipper and Mabel Pines, 12-year-old twins, as they’re sent to spend the summer with their great uncle.  It sounds pretty boring to the twins, until they arrive and find themselves at The Mystery Shack, their Grunkle Stan’s tourist trap house of fake oddities.

As weird as their grunkle is, though, Dipper and Mabel soon discover that there are much stranger and more dangerous things happening in the town: gnomes hiding in the forest, a crazy old man with superior robotic skills living in the dump, a psychic child who’s set his sights on Mabel, a copy machine that can make living copies, and ghosts with a hatred for teenagers haunting an abandoned convenient store.

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And that’s just the first half dozen or so episodes.

The longer the twins stay in Gravity Falls, the more they realize that all the weirdness is connected to a larger mystery, one which was chronicled in a journal written by the mysterious Author.  Dipper makes it his summer goal to figure out just what’s going on, and with the help of his sister and their friends, they embark on a summer-long adventure, determined to solve the mystery of Gravity Falls.

I can easily say that Gravity Falls is not just one of my favorite cartoons, it’s one of my favorite shows ever.  The characters, the setting, the crazy stories—it’s all a bit chaotic, but it’s a lot of fun for kids.  There’s also a lot of adult humor, courtesy of Grunkle Stan, and a lot of references to everything from movies and video games to anime, boy bands, and Aztec mythology.  Everything’s done in good taste, though, keeping the show at a PG rating and allowing everyone to enjoy the show at their own level.

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Although there are plenty of admirable traits on display in Gravity Falls—trust, love, curiosity, joy, maturity—one of the best aspects of Dipper, Mabel, and the rest of the characters is their determination.  All the characters have their own goal that they’re actively pursuing, but Dipper and Mabel in particular show that they’re willing to go to great lengths to see their desires met.  And although this determination borders on pigheadedness from time to time and gets the twins into trouble more often than not, it also helps them succeed.

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Dipper is determined to uncover the secrets of Gravity Falls and discover exactly what’s going in the crazy town.  Ever since his accidental discovery of the Author’s third journal, Dipper’s set his mind on using the book’s information on strange creatures and anomalies to explain the weird events that pop up on an almost daily basis.  And he typically manages to do so, showing off his intelligence and resourcefulness to save the day time and time again.  But eventually his drive to find the source of the town’s weirdness leads him to meeting Bill Cipher, a chaos demon with a jaunty bow tie and a penchant for deals.

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Bill’s twisted sense of humor means his deals usually work in his favor at the sake of the other party, and when he loses his temper, he’s much more terrifying than his bright yellow pyramid form would suggest.  Dipper learns firsthand how tricky and destructive Bill can be, but when the boy needs help cracking a key clue in his search for the Author, he still makes a deal with Bill and ends up possessed.  He eventually manages to get his body back, but he almost loses Mabel and the journal in the process.

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It’s Dipper’s determination to prove that he can solve the mystery that lands him in
his near-death situation, and its Mabel determination to save her brother that saves them all.
 Dipper realizes that he’s put his goal above the things that are truly important—specifically, his family and friends—and although he still wants to find the Author, he understands that there are things he cares about more than proving his sleuthing abilities.

From then on out, Dipper is determined to succeed on his own terms, and when Bill returns to Gravity Falls with his army to take over the world, Dipper stands his ground and is able to win by relying on himself and those he cares for.  Watching Dipper grow from a timid weakling determined to show everyone he can be good at something to a confident leader willing to face down an all-powerful demon is both fun and inspiring, and his journey is a clear example of what you can achieve when you truly set your mind to something.

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Unlike her brother, Mabel is determined to spread joy and have fun while she’s doing
it.
 It’s hilarious to see what lengths Mabel will go to in order to show everyone a good time, even if it means jumping feet-first into embarrassing situations.  But that’s the thing about Mabel—she doesn’t care what people think about her.  She’s confident in who she is and what she believes, and she doesn’t care to waste time on people who don’t like her true self.

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That doesn’t mean she won’t go out of her way to help the haters have a good day, though.  Whether it’s defacing a car with encouraging graffiti or making everyone wear one of her colorful homemade sweaters, Mabel is totally determined to make people smile.  Her boundless energy and joy are infectious, and they make her the perfect counterpart to her more serious brother.  But Mabel isn’t totally selfless; when  she has the chance to do something that makes her happy, nothing can stop her, not even common sense or safety concerns.  Like Dipper, Mabel’s determination harms her almost as much as it helps, landing her and everyone else in awkward or even dangerous situations.

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Over the summer, Mabel’s go-for-it attitude gets her her first kiss, but it also pushes
her to hold a boy band of clones captive.  It wins her a pet pig, but it almost costs her her friends.  It helps her befriend her rival, but it also causes her to start the weird apocalypse.  Mabel learns that pushing to find happiness—for herself and for others—sometimes has unforeseen consequences, some of which can cause big problems.  And in the end, Mabel realizes that there are more important things than being happy all the time.  Sometimes it’s sadness or anger or fear that helps you grow, but that’s doesn’t mean you have to push away the happiness.  Mabel learns that it’s only by finding a balance of joy and sadness that she can be a better, more mature individual.

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Gravity Falls is a wild paranormal adventure that shows the joys and pains of growing up.  Dipper and Mabel have one of the healthiest sibling relationships portrayed on television, and they’re so much fun to watch as they face off against all sorts of strange creatures.  Although they may fight now and again, they never lose sight of their love for one another, and in the end, it’s their determination to keep one another safe that keeps them so close after going through so much.  They’re the heart of this show, and while the rest of the town and their antics are fun to see, it’s really Dipper and Mabel’s journey from preteens facing an unfamiliar world to teens ready to take on the future that brings everything together.  And without their determination—to explore, to enjoy, to grow—they never would’ve become the heroes of Gravity Falls.

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