Bill Cipher making his debut in Gravity Falls

Holy Poop, These Notes Disney’s Censors Gave ‘Gravity Falls’ Creator Alex Hirsch!

I'll be fully shocked as soon as I stop laughing from naming a chimpanzee "Salacious Monk Monk."
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This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first season of Gravity Falls, which I staunchly maintain is among the best animated series of that decade. It’s kind of like an animated Twin Peaks, except much goofier and very heartwarming. Gravity Falls aired on Disney XD, and even at the time, the show had a reputation for constantly running up against Disney’s exceedingly conservatively minded censors. For the tenth anniversary, Gravity Falls‘ creator, Alex Hirsch, has divulged several email exchanges between himself and Disney’s S&P (Standards and Practices) department. And ooooooh boy. It’s just as ridiculous as you’d imagine in your most ridiculous dreams.

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On Twitter, Hirsch posted a video consisting merely of text, voiceover, and dramatic piano sonatas truly, a virtuosic exercise in making simplicity engaging as all hell. Because, despite this simple setup, the video is paced amazingly. I audibly laughed multiple times. As Hirsch says, the video merely shows Disney S&P’s real notes for real Gravity Falls episodes, complete with Hirsch’s real replies—which, to Hirsch’s immense credit, are often wonderfully haughty. Many responses end with either, “I’m not changing that,” or simply, “Nope.” To fully grasp the absurdity of Disney’s requests, I’d recommend just watching the video for full effect.

Fans of Gravity Falls previously knew that Hirsch and his team had their bouts with Disney S&P. Hirsch wasn’t exactly quiet about his discontent. One infamous situation occurred when Disney asked for characters to fasten their seatbelts—during a conversation in a parked car. As evidenced in the Twitter video itself, these exchanges were frequent enough that dissing Disney’s S&P practices literally made it into the show. A Twitter commenter piped in with, essentially, “Oh, so that’s the origin of the S&P joke!”

But, prior to this video, the breadth are particulars of the conversations were largely unknown. Disney’s notes include several absurd concerns about acknowledging the existence of “making out,” fears of offending Christians with exceedingly minor nods, numerous pleas around supposed inappropriate language, and horror that something “may call to mind the people who dress up as stuffed animals as a ‘furry’ fetish.” That last one is particularly abhorrent, leaning on stupid stereotypes. A heroic member of the furry community is fighting to unionize Starbucks, goddammit. Hirsch’s response to that note: “Do I even have to respond to this?”

The most well-known instance of continuous friction between the Gravity Falls team and Disney S&P was around two minor characters, Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland. Hirsch wanted the two cops to be an out gay couple, but Disney wasn’t having it. The ongoing nature of the tussle is hinted at in one of the notes in Hirsch’s new video: “As noted in previous concerns, their affectionate relationship should remain comical versus flirtatious.” Hirsch replied by urging the censor to “chill out.” Hirsch eventually sort of won, and the two characters had a (muted) expression of their love for one another in the 2016 finale.

Fortunately, Disney has advanced on this exceedingly exclusionary attitude towards depicting same sex couples … kind of. Earlier this year, The Owl House—created by Dana Terrace, who happens to be Hirsch’s partner—depicted a kiss between two female characters. Terrace had her own struggles with Disney as she fought to make her protagonist the entertainment giant’s first openly bisexual lead, but critically, she eventually won. Terrace was also very vocal about Disney’s CEO dragging his feet in condemning Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill until it was too late. (Disney eventually did condemn it, which turned into a whole thing.)

One of Hirsch’s more animated replies sums up the S&P experience rather well: “Why should we be held hostage to whatever imaginary knee-jerk career complainers who would conceivably go out of their way to be offended by this?” How true this sentiment would continue to ring over TV and the internet ten years later is quite fascinating indeed. Hirsch has since moved on to venues more open to “crude” humor, as he’s been long-rumored to be working on a Gorillaz project for Netflix. And as Hirsch reflected, “It wasn’t a war against Disney — it was a war *for* Disney. I wanted to make them a hit show, even if I had to drag them to success kicking and screaming.” Hopefully, at least, Disney learned something. Seems like maybe they did. A little.

(featured image: Disney)

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.