Disney's "Gravity Falls" is back … sort of.
The beloved animated series, which concerned twins (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) who spend a summer with their cantankerous, tourist trap-operating great uncle, concluded its two-season, 40-episode run on February 15, 2016. But interest in the show has only grown since it left the air; it's hard to not think of "Gravity Falls" (and the fandom that surrounds it) as anything short of a phenomenon.
And this week sees two posthumous treats hit store shelves -- the first is a graphic novel, "Gravity Falls: Lost Legends," written by the show's creator, Alex Hirsch. Also releasing this week, against all odds, is a deluxe complete series box set, featuring every episode from the series, plus the short films, documentaries, deleted scenes and commentary tracks. It's a "Gravity Falls" fan's nirvana. What makes the release even more astounding is that Disney didn't even release it. Instead, it comes from our friends at Shout Factory, who put out the best home video releases around.
We were lucky enough to chat with Hirsch before he left for Comic-Con to sign copies of the box set, and talked about how this release came together, whether or not he wishes he had done more episodes, and what is going on with some of the projects that he's been linked to in the press.
Moviefone: Last time we spoke was right before the show ended. And even back then, you'd said how you wanted a deluxe box set of the series to come out. How did this box set come about, especially since Disney isn't actually releasing it?
Hirsch: Mickey Mouse works in mysterious ways. I've been lobbying on behalf of the fans for a full DVD collection ever since the show ended and it's been a continued drumbeat. I'll shoot an email every now and again to Disney. "How 'bout now?" "How 'bout now?" And I do think persistence is key. Also key was the fact that Shout Factory contacted us. They do fantastic work. They have a passion for DVDs, particularly DVDs for collectors. These are DVDs with all the bells and whistles and goodies. I think between their excitement and my annoying persistence, Disney finally relented.
In the documentary that's included in the box set, you go into detail about how much stuff you accumulated throughout the run of the show. Did you get everything you wanted onto the disc?
I'm very proud and satisfied with the DVD we were able to put together. As somebody who loves to watch DVDs and learn behind-the-scenes tidbits from my favorite shows, I never feel like I get enough. But we were able to get most of the crew back to do interviews, we were able to do commentary on every single episode. And I feel really good about what we were able to put together.
One of the great things about this set is that you get to highlight so many of the talented people that worked on the show. Was that part of your mission, too?
Absolutely. When you're the creator of something like a show, your name is at the beginning in the opening credits. So you tend to get all the attention, which means you get more praise and more blame than you deserve. But there is a massive crew of incredibly hardworking, talented people, and without them the show would have been impossible. Thanks to the DVD and the documentary and the work of Shout Factory, we were able to shed some light on so many amazing people behind-the-scenes, both in interviews and in the commentary. Many of the "Gravity Falls" alumni have gone on and are currently going on to doing amazing things. Both Dana Terrace and Matt Braly and Chris Houghton have either new shows in development or on the air. Mike Rianda is directing an awesome movie at Sony. There's so much talent in that room, and it's just beginning to spread out into the industry, and show everyone what I already knew, which was that our crew was amazing.
There's also a "Gravity Falls" graphic novel coming out next week. When you ended the show, it seemed like that was for you. Has it been fun to reengage with the fan community and produce new material from that world?
Well, we live in an age of instant nostalgia. Five minutes after lunch we start looking at Instagram photos of your lunch, thinking about what a great meal it was. It used to be that you'd wait ten years before having a reunion or a collection DVD. Now, the turnaround is about two years to feel nostalgic about something that just ended. But my feeling about the fan community is, I continue to be impressed by the amount of passion in the fan community. And because of streaming services like Hulu, where "Gravity Falls" is currently watchable and it still reruns on the channel to great ratings, and thanks to the DVD people continue to rediscover it.
It's not like the old days when a show was over and it receded into the void. People continue to rediscover the show or discover it for the first time. And the engagement is so strong. I have many different projects I'm working on but because that audience remains around and remains hungry, I'm always looking for little scraps I can feed them to reward them for that attention. This DVD was a passion project -- exclusively for the fans -- and the comic was a little gift, a way of saying thank you for continuing to be fans and creating new fans.
The release of "Journal 3" was a huge blockbuster for Disney Publishing. Does it surprise you at all that people are still snapping this stuff up?
I'm always surprised that it continues to generate so much passion – and grateful! "Journal 3" took everyone a bit by surprise. It was such a huge hit for Disney Publishing and on the New York Times bestseller list for so many months. Publishing has been a great partner and would publish as much "Gravity Falls"-related content as I was available to create for them. Unfortunately, my schedule only allows for little things here and there. It's one of these things where, if there are products and side projects that are created now and then that don't impugn the integrity of the series itself or too much of my time or my current projects, I'm happy to do it when I'm available.
You told me one time that if the show had been on the air for five years, there'd be a Mystery Shack at Disneyland. Is there any part of you that wishes you had stretched it out a little bit more?
There is zero percent of me that wishes I had gone on longer with the show itself. I completed the project as I intended and I was able to fulfill my vision, which is something that the vast majority of shows in television history do not get to do. They do not get to complete the story on their own terms and I have zero regrets about that. But I still love this world and I still love these characters. And just for clarity, making a television show is a life-consuming endeavor. There is no comparison between the amount of life it sucks to make a 20 episode season of television versus the little bit of time it takes to make a book here or a comic there. These are essentially side projects. Every now and then, I'll get a tweet like, "You made a comic, why don't you make another season?" That's sort of like saying, "You made a brick, why don't you make 80 pyramids?" There's no comparison.
Well, part of what makes the box set so eye opening is seeing how much work you dedicated to this show.
Animation is a very mysterious process. It's this strange art form where you essentially being Dr. Frankenstein where you're taking inert scraps of matter and shocking them into life using black magic. It's very hard for people to understand the steps and stages that it takes to create animation because with live action, anybody could shoot a video with their phone in five seconds and say, "Oh I get it. I know how movies are made." But animation – writing, storyboarding, drawing things frame-by-frame, it's a very mysterious process and it's hard for most fans to understand what goes into it. But I'm grateful for it. Even though it would be the bane of my existence until the day I die, I'm sure I'll get letters and tweets that will say, "Hey, when is season 3 coming out?" I always see that as a sign of a job well done. I think it's better leaving people wanting more than the alternative.
Speaking of "more," in 2016 it was announced you were developing a prime time animated series for Fox.
It's so interesting because when I first started working in television, I would have conversations with one studio, I'd have conversations with another studio. It was just business. Now, if I have a talk with somebody, I will read an article about it and it will suddenly be like, "Hey everyone now Alex is doing this!" Particularly in the movie business, every little motion can turn into its own report and spin into a reality that is not indicative of any actual reality. For example, the Fox thing… there is no Fox show. That is not a real thing. I'd had some conversations with people at Fox, on the heels of "Gravity Falls," with people who had an interest in working with me. And I expressed an interest in working with them. But it was just talk.
I'd never even pitched them a show. It immediately turned into a big report. And I had been talking with them. But, ultimately, I got sucked into movies and have been working in a number of capacities on a number of different movies. The stuff I have been the most involved with, which has been the primary stuff, has not been announced or mentioned online because it's top secret and I'm not allowed to talk about it. The stuff that's real, I can't comment on and the stuff that's not real, I can debunk when it pops up. But features are such a different business. There are many people involved, high stakes, giant contracts and non-disclosure agreements. So it's a completely beast.
Well one of the features you were tied to was the "Detective Pikachu" movie.
That's another thing that was blown out of proportions. I'd had initial conversations with their team about potential story directions, but ultimately we both went in different directions and I did not write on the "Detective Pikachu" movie. I didn't write a single page of that script. So, it's one of those things where you get a phone call that's like, "Hey, have any interest in working with Pikachu?" And you say, "Well, I'll check it out." But ultimately it wasn't the right fit for either of us. But I believe the credits to that movie has been announced and there are like 12 credit writers and none of them are me!
So what is your relationship with Disney these days?
Asking someone what their relationship with Disney is, is almost like asking them what their relationship is with the western hemisphere. It's such a massive company, spanning so many sub-companies and so many departments, that to try to make a monolith of it and talk about it like a friend we all know and talk about it like a relationship doesn't make sense. I will say that my relationship with Disney Publishing is phenomenal. They've been the best partner I can imagine in terms of creating books based on the series. They understand the tone of the show and really respect the artists and the intention of the creators and it's been a dream working with them. Currently, Disney Television Animation -- obviously I'm not making anything with them anymore -- but I have a number of friends who are working over there and I'm very excited for them. But I'm working on different things in different places right now, things I cannot comment on. Features are very slow and move in their own way, so hopefully I'll be able to give more information soon.
Well, one of the more famous stories about you, coming up in the industry, is that you gave up a job at Pixar. It was very rebellious, at the time. Would you ever want to go back and do something there?
I'll say this: the animation industry is a small business and I have friends working at every studio, doing cool projects at every studio. I think there's never been a better time to be a creator in animation right now, because there are more networks or studios, more content more hunger. And it creates amazing opportunities. I'm deep in a particular project right now but there's no way to say where I might or might not work in the future. There are great options everywhere.
"Gravity Falls: The Complete Series" box set is on DVD and Blu-ray from Shout Factory and it's one of the very best home video releases of the year.