This week we shift gears in the RotLA world and it takes us down a path that isn’t necessarily #OregonMade, as we would always prefer, but #OregonSET. There’s many a great project that is set here in Oregon but has not brought itself to actually produce its content in this great state – Springfield-set The Simpsons comes to mind but the much-anticipated I, Tonya also rounds out that particular out-of-state-produced-but-set-in-Oregon pack. Raider/Contributor Phil Oppenheim makes the compelling argument that even those projects that do not exist as so-called brick-and-mortar operations here in Oregon, have a lasting impact on our state (and read to the very end for some great connected places to visit here in Oregon). And we’re not gonna argue with that, be that as it may.
For December, we’re pivoting away from the dark urban crime scenes of last month’s noir tribute and towards the warmer, gentler landscape of the holiday season. And as a palate cleanser for some great upcoming family fare – movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang and Tonka, for a couple of teasers – we’re going to sample a Disney cartoon series that has become a cult classic (among discriminating animation fans) and a key part of Oregon’s rising pop culture cache during the 2010s.
Gravity Falls is a very Oregonian series—although it wasn’t made here. Its creator-writer-producer, Alex Hirsch, isn’t an Oregonian, either. It takes place here, though, and roots itself in an Oregon State of Mind.
Twelve-year-old twins Mabel and Dipper Pine are sent packing on their summer vacation from boring old Piedmont, California to a tourist trap owned by their great-Uncle Stan (soon nicknamed Grunkle Stan) in the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon (mirroring Hirsch’s real-life summer travels with his sister—autobiographically enough, the auteur also performs the voice of his own Uncle). This being Oregon—or, I should say, “Oregon,” the state whose popular iconography nowadays includes spookiness, unexplained phenomena, monsters, and oddballs, thanks to the success of the Twilight movies, Grimm, and Portlandia—the Pine clan soon discovers that their summer buddies will include Bigfoot, slacker zombies, feisty gnomes, disco-loving-multi-headed bears, Leprecorns, The Abominable Bro-Man, and a second-dimensional villain who may be the Illuminated Eyeball incarnate. And at the risk of getting too spoilery, the entire series ends in an apocalyptic event called Weirdmageddon.
In other words, Gravity Falls is deeply weird, and it wears its Weirdness like a freaky merit badge from the Weirdo Scouts of America.
Unsurprisingly, the Oregon of Hirsch’s vision reimagines actual places like Gold Hill’s Oregon Vortex, which fans have concluded is the show’s real-world analogue; Hirsch modeled Grunkle Stan’s tourist trap, (in part) on the Vortex’s House of Mystery.
Maybe it’s true that the real state of Oregon doesn’t share as much strangeness with the imagined Oregon of Gravity Falls, but it’s also nice to know that when Hirsch planned a giant treasure hunt for fans of the show, he buried its final mystery—a statue of Bill Cypher, the floating eyeball, the finder of which became the Mayor of Gravity Falls—in a remote locate in Reedsport, Oregon.
Of course Gravity Falls would have been a much better show if it had been created here—obviously—if it more authentically Oregonian. To that end, I’d like to suggest that teams of writers, filmmakers, and animators pick up their laptops, notepads, and cameras and head out to the real locations that inspired the series (suggestions below) and demonstrate to Hirsch and Co. how it’s really done up here—who knows what kind of wonderful weirdness the world will be watching next? Sounds like the perfect Oregon Film Family Vacation to me!
The Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill, Oregon: According to its website, the Vortex is “a spherical field of force”; I’m not certain what that means, exactly, or what causes any of The Phenomena ™ that occurs there—but I am certain that you’ll have fun if you visit and spend some time at its House of Mystery. Bring your camera for some great gag photos among the mysteries, and take your credit card to pick up some excellent merch! (Note: it’s closed for the winter, but will be ready for visitors again on March 1st).
Paul Bunyan: According to Grunkle Stan, The Mystery Mountain, out there somewhere along the Redwood Highway, is a much bigger and better attraction than The Mystery Shack, including a mammoth statue of Paul Bunyan among its highlights. You can search around for the spot, I suppose, but you can make it much easier on yourself if you head to Portland’s Kenton neighborhood to see the newly restored Paul Bunyan. He’s been looking mighty fine since his debut at Tall Paul Fest!
Boring, Oregon: As the Oregonian’s Rob Owen discovered during an interview with Hirsch in 2012, Boring was among the inspirations for the town of Gravity Falls — or at least the highway exit sign was. During a childhood drive through the state, Hirsch and his family “passed a sign for Boring, Oregon. We never went there, but I was positively enchanted with the idea that there was a town called Boring …. Gravity Falls is partially from what I imagine Boring might be like. Or maybe the opposite of Boring, Oregon, would be Gravity Falls.” You can have a lot of fun if you visit Boring; the British ad agency Ogilvy sure did. Keep Boring Boring!
The Enchanted Forest: Gnomes figure prominently in the plot of Gravity Falls (some of which barf rainbows); if you want to capture (on film) gnomes in their native habitat, sort of, head to Turner, Oregon’s Enchanted Forest. There are plenty of the l’il guys all over the place, if you look closely at the grounds, and if you don’t get too distracted by the nooks of Storybook Lane, the laser gun hunt of The Challenge of Mordor, the dazzling dance of the Fantasy Fountains, and a jillion other fun things to see and do.
Reedsport, Oregon: This family found the statue of Bill Cypher from the show’s finale—but maybe it’s still out there? There’s only one way to know for sure …
The Temple of Oculus Anubis, Damascus, Oregon: A lot of fans have noted that some of the crypto-Egyptian mythology of Gravity Falls parallels the mysteries of this fabled center of Oregon exotica. At one time, this spot was rumored to be the “creepiest place in Oregon” and one of the weirdest of the state’s weird places. From the road—which is as close as you can get, because it’s private property (which means DON’T TRESPASS)—it sure looks odd, with a mysterious arch with mythical figures guarding a white statue of the Egyptian god Anubis. Is it a cultists’ HQ, with connections to Heaven’s Gate? Or just a nutty wealthy family’s idea of cool lawn ornaments? The “Temple” has gained some sad infamy more recently as the site of parental abuse, tax fraud, and a health insurance scam, which makes the whole story a lot less fun.
Festivals: Plans for the Second Annual Oregon Bigfoot Festival should be announced early next year; last year’s event took place in the middle of August.
And it’s not too soon to start thinking about the McMinnville’s UFO Festival, May 17-19, 2018. Book early and avoid the abductee rush!
Laika: Fun fact: Alex Hirsch worked as a storyboard artist for Hillsboro’s legendary Laika studios during a summer away from college—and that’s when his love for Oregon was re-ignited and he began imagining the series that would eventually become Gravity Falls. We’ll be looking at Laika and its legacy of unequalled stop-motion filmmaking in a future Raid, but in the meantime you should visit the Portland Art Museum’s celebration of the studio, Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of Laika (ending May 20, 2018). It’s a beautiful, inspiring show.
Watch: Hulu currently streams the entire 40 episode run of Gravity Falls. It’s an easy binge for the whole family.
- Written by Phil Oppenheim