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Review: Bouncy, weightless fun with 'Gravity Falls'

Kristen Schaal's distinctive voice is a key pleasure in this Disney Channel cartoon about siblings spending the summer with a strange great-uncle.

June 15, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • The twins embark on a mission to prove that a legendary sea monster exists at the bottom of the local lake in a new episode of "Gravity Falls."
The twins embark on a mission to prove that a legendary sea monster exists… (Disney Channel )

The sound of Kristen Schaal, already a notable feature of Fox's "Bob's Burgers"as the voice of wise child Louise Belcher, adds an instant touch of alt-comedy cred to "Gravity Falls," a likable new Disney Channel cartoon series about twins spending a summer with their strange great-uncle in a weird little town in the Pacific Northwest. Cue the"Twin Peaks" reference (though "Eerie, Indiana" is a more apt live-action comparison).

As is often the case with the kid channels, there is a "preview" — that's what Friday's airing is being called — before the "premiere," which is scheduled for June 29.

Gently twisted, with some Disneyfied action and heart-warming folded in, the series was created by Alex Hirsch, yet another young product of Cal Arts, the Harvard Business School of animation, and a veteran of Disney Channel's "Fish Hooks" and Cartoon Network's "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack." He also voices the twins' Grunkle Stan — drawn with an old man's big ears and knobby nose, big square glasses and a Shriner's fez — with the phlegmy bark of a retired Borscht Belt comic: "My ex-wife still misses me, but her aim is getting better. You see? It's funny because marriage is terrible."

Only one episode was available for this review, and it wasn't the pilot, which presumably explains how brother Dipper (Jason Ritter) and sister Mabel (Schaal) came to Gravity Falls and more completely characterizes Stan, who in press materials is described as the "gruff and miserly" proprietor of a tourist trap, the Mystery Shack. That's not really apparent in the episode I've seen, which takes place largely on a fishing trip and lake-monster hunt, apart from a brief flashback that shows "family bonding" through counterfeiting. ("You call that Ben Franklin? He looks like a woman.")

"The county jail was so cold," Mabel remembers with an audible shiver. I don't want to overemphasize a single element out of a collaborative effort — I've yet to even hear Linda Cardellini, who plays a teenage clerk at the Mystery Shack. And it's not as if Schaal has been given all the best lines. But she makes you think she has.

Schaal's voice, always recognizably her own, conveys a crazy enthusiasm, sweet and slightly psycho, like Sally Brown crossed with Lucy van Pelt. (In human form, she's played stalker-fan Mel on"Flight of the Conchords"and stalker-page Hazel Wassername on"30 Rock.") She can sound at once strangely childish and precociously adult, notwithstanding her actual adulthood.

Proudly declaring herself "a lookout genius" when their boat runs aground on an island; gasping, "So majestic" as she listens to the "whale noises" a friend's stomach makes; shouting "Mazel tov!"; or free-styling as she walks along, Mabel is the star of her life and this show: "My name is Mabel / It rhymes with table / It also rhymes with ... label / It also rhymes with .... schmabel."

"Gravity Falls," Disney, 9:55 p.m. Friday. Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children)

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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