Gravity Falls Rewatch: Land Before Swine

well earned nap

Recaps wait for no face!

The Plot

Waddles is kidnapped by a giant pterodactyl after Stan leaves him tied up outside, resulting in an expedition to an underground Jurassic cavern preserved by tree sap to try and save Mabel’s beloved pet.

This episode has the slight misfortune of coming before a major one-two punch of plot events and the introduction of one of the series’ biggest keystones, making it somewhat easy to overlook in retrospect. Which is too bad, because if nothing else it’s an excellent character development episode for Stan – none of the beats of his arc are unexpected, but it’s the details that really make the whole thing pop.

Fantasy segments are deployed fairly rarely as the show goes on, which gives the animators an excuse to really cut loose when they do come up. Little touches like the exaggerated Gaussian glow on the image of Stan and Waddles or Stan’s rippling muscles contrasted with his unchanged, jowly face sell the absurdity of the image above and beyond the initial punchline of “punching a pterodactyl in the face” (which is its own form of clever, since the actual moment proves to be much more epic and satisfying in execution, pig and all).

The boarders of Gravity Falls are often its unsung heroes due to the show’s script-driven nature, but moments like this show how crucial they are in elevating the stakes and comedic timing – not to mention heartwarming touches like Stan waving Waddles’ little hoof. A tip of my hat to this episode’s hard work by Matt Danner, Erik Fountain, and Alonso Ramirez Ramos.

If the episode has a weak point, it’s the Soos subplot – while the idea of “clumsy but comes through in a pinch” comes across well enough, the storytelling logic isn’t necessarily on one big crescendo – Soos’ mistakes are generally about him being accidentally thoughtless, while his big “save the day” moment involves him taking charge as a leader (while a more expected lead up to that payoff would be, say, Soos charging ahead and leading them into danger or making active bad decisions that require him then having to ask for trust later).

But even that’s a fairly minor quibble, and these scenes serve as good setup in the grand scheme of things for Soos’ eventual status as a protector of the twins and honorary member of the Pines family. Its greatest sin is being forgettable, and who can begrudge it when we have the dual mental images of Stan, again, punching a pterodactyl, and McGucket eating a baby dinosaur alive from the inside out?

epic battle

Today in Fandom

Internet, let me fill you in on the phenomenon that was “Hunkle Stan.” While it technically didn’t flower into a true phenomenon until the season two premiere, which featured a rather handsome and comparatively younger design of the character (season 2 Stan has a lot less jowl and fewer gut-related punchlines), it’s fair to say that it has its roots here with the whole “punching a pterodactyl in the face” thing.

Yes, the internet found itself quite taken with the swoons over Stan Pines, happy to depict him as a sort of gruff “too old for this” former tough guy who’s quite capable of coming out of retirement to break a few faces. Which….kind of turned out to be true. By the time the series ends, it looks like spending time with the twins has de-aged Stan about 20 years. And let me tell you what, with everything he goes through, he deserves it.

naptime

Ciphers

CREDITS CIPHER: “IT WORKS FOR PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS!”

(In addition, really eagle-eyed viewers can notice that fantasy!Stan has a cipher on his back where his tattoo should be – and it reads “LIES”)

You’ve probably noticed that a good chunk of these episode titles are at least partial pop cultural references. But I’ve always liked this one for the potential dual reading: you have the Land Before Time riff of course, referencing the Don Bluth movie, because how could you not with all those dinosaurs on display; but it also reads as a play on “pearls before swine,” which refers to wasting good ideas or efforts on an audience incapable of appreciating it.

The latter’s particularly interesting to me because in the early parts of the series, that would’ve theoretically described Stan – he’s a jerk, he’s selfish, he refuses to even think about understanding the supernatural events going on right under his nose. Even before now Stan’s had glimpses of protective warmth, but this is the episode that really proves how much he loves the kids and how much he’s willing to go out of his way, even putting himself in physical danger, as much to make them happy as to protect them.

pterodactyl

Spoiler Corner

One of the great blank spots in Gravity Falls canon is what exactly Stan was doing for those thirty years that he was trying to get the portal up and running again – as well as how much information was even in that first journal for him to draw from. And chief among that is the question “did Stan know that ‘Old Man McGucket’ was once Ford’s research assistant.”

Screenshots of the upcoming Journal 3 seem to have a lot of anecdotes about Ford and Fiddleford’s time working together there, which might suggest that Journal 1 was predominantly done during Ford’s initial time in Gravity Falls – but that can’t be entirely true, because Journal 1 also contains part of the portal blueprint. The timeline gets a little messy about what useful information is contained where, and at what time.

Stan’s “ugh, this guy,” comment sparked off a lot of evolving debate over the course of the show’s run. From the original “Mystery Trio” headcanons that proposed Stan worked with the researchers before the incident all the way up to the post-“Tale of Two Stans” revelations, where the discussion changed to wondering if Stan might’ve tried to get McGucket to try and help him with the portal, only for the man to be – even then – far too addled to be of any particular help (or with just enough sense left to be either a threat or a huge loss when he eventually fell through).

Of course, it’s also possible that Stan’s annoyed because McGucket is an abrasive presence who probably digs through his trash and scares away tourists, but where’s the fun in that?

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