For those of you that don’t know, Mabel is one of the lead characters of the critically-acclaimed cartoon show, Gravity Falls. Set in a mysterious little Oregon town, the plot centres around the adventures of Mabel and her twin brother, Dipper, as they try and unravel the town’s mysteries over their summer holiday. The show was a huge success, spawning legions of fans, fanfics and elaborate theories as well as winning several awards and being described as “the best show on TV.” Mabel herself has been a huge part of that success, becoming a favourite with fans and critics alike.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Being twelve for most of the series, there are some things that Mabel will never be able to control – seeing as she’s so young, things like her living and travel arrangements aren’t really up to her. That said, Mabel does exert a remarkable amount of control over her life for someone so young. She’s able to decide who she hangs out with, what crazy mysteries she does (or doesn’t) investigate, and frequently gets to extend this to the lives of her friends and family. On a much larger scale, she also ends up playing a very significant role in the downfall of the series’ ultimate villain, Bill Cipher. For those of you that haven’t seen the show, Bill is a multi-dimensional fear demon who, despite the fact that Gravity Falls is a children’s show, has the ability to do things like this:
Mabel plays a huge part in leading the townspeople in their attempts to defeat Bill, as well as stopping him from hurting her family and coming up with a way to defeat him. What’s even better about Mabel’s situation is that she doesn’t end up doing this because of some prophecy/long-buried family curse/Plot McGuffin that means she’s forced into it. She’s on her path because her own ambitions, curiosity and relationships have set her on it – it’s very much a path of her own choosing.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Mabel’s hobbies are actually very well-documented. We see her enjoying arts and crafts, scrapbooking, sleepovers, singing, dancing and mini-golf. The same is true for her beliefs – she sets a lot of store by having ‘perfect’ experiences (such as summer romances, school photos, birthday parties and even high school itself) but ultimately things like trusting her family are more important to her. Her goals aren’t really set in stone, as they tend to change from episode to episode, but they are very clearly expressed. Over the course of the series, Mabel wants to find herself a boyfriend, make new friends, keep her family together and stop the town of Gravity Falls from becoming something out of H. P. Lovecraft’s nightmares.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Mabel is a pretty consistent character. She’s outgoing, silly, optimistic, confident, energetic, but can also be a little naïve, arrogant and tends to blunder into stuff without thinking about it first. She’s very kind, means well and always puts her family first, but she can be very tough when she wants to be.
As far as her skills go, we see plenty of them. She’s very creative and enjoys working with a range of different artistic materials, is very good at mini-golf but is also a very bad liar. This remains the case throughout most of the series, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
An outgoing, exuberantly happy young girl investigating a mysterious town with her twin brother.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Mabel’s love life is a pretty constant feature of the series. At the very beginning of the show, she outright says that she wants to have an epic summer romance, and pursues several different boys over the course of the series.
However, it must be said that this isn’t the only thing that drives her. Once she makes two close friends and starts investigating mysteries, she’s perfectly prepared to put her romantic ambitions to one side. Equally, when Gideon Gleeful – the creepiest little child psychic you ever did see – starts pursuing her to the extent that it makes her uncomfortable, she’s more than capable of calling their romance off. It’s made pretty clear that Mabel doesn’t just want any old summer fling – she wants it to be on her own terms.
While at the start of the show Mabel is a little ‘boy-crazy’, she proves more than once that she’s perfectly willing to set aside her dreams of the perfect summer romance when there are more important things at stake. In fact, as the show goes on, this aspect of her character fades into the background, making it clear that it isn’t really a serious goal. I’ll be generous and give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Mabel actually goes through some pretty solid character development over the course of the series. As I’ve already mentioned, her romantic ambitions become less important to her as the series progresses, but she also gains a more complex understanding of sibling relationships, starts to doubt herself a little, and learns when – and when not – to stand up for herself.
Most importantly, in the series finale she faces her fears of growing up and becoming distant from her twin brother. Bill Cipher offers her a chance to stay in a world where she’ll never grow old and have everything she wants (including stuffed animal trees). Mabel eventually realises that this world is pure fantasy, and even though reality will inevitably involve working through some very difficult things it is her only real opportunity for growth. This is some very complex and emotionally nuanced character development for a character on a cartoon show, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 6
- Does she have a weakness?
Mabel has plenty of weaknesses. She doesn’t think things through, she makes wild assumptions about other people more than once, she’s so invested in her ideas of the perfect experience that she’s actually hurt when it doesn’t live up to what she hoped for. She’s gullible, naïve, and her gut reaction is to run away from her problems rather than face up to them. These are all valid weaknesses that hold her back through the story – some of which she overcomes, some of which she doesn’t.
SCORE SO FAR: 7
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
It has to be said that Mabel gets captured quite a few times – whether that’s by a crazy multi-dimensional fear demon, her crazy ex-boyfriend, or a bunch of gnomes who want to marry her and make her their queen.
This doesn’t really happen for many of the other characters in Gravity Falls, and it’s worth noting that most of Mabel’s kidnappers have been romantically interested in her. That said, this is by no means her only influence on the plot – she’s still a very active character who gets herself into and out of trouble in various different ways. However, I do feel like I have to give her half a point for this one.
SCORE SO FAR: 7.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Mabel presents a healthy mix in terms of gender stereotypes. On the one hand, she’s very interested in activities and experiences that are traditionally feminine. She loves having sleepovers and dance parties with her friends, is very invested in having the perfect summer romance, and frequently obsesses over boy bands, stuffed animals, cute things and other people’s love lives.
But this isn’t her only interest. She’s artistic, creative, loves being silly, doesn’t care if she gets a little dirty now and then and is more than prepared to fight her way out of trouble if she needs to. She’s just as happy exploring a grimy underground laboratory as she is covering everything with glitter. This is actually a really important message for young girls in several different ways. Mabel is effectively showing viewers that traditionally masculine and feminine pastimes don’t have to be mutually exclusive – and that enjoying stereotypically feminine stuff doesn’t make you less of a person.
In fact, Mabel’s character arc and storylines often work together to present a very healthy view of a young girl growing up. Mabel’s interests aren’t belittled because they’re ‘girly’ – the other characters just make it clear that they don’t always share them. Mabel likes shopping, and makeovers, and talking about cute boys, but she does all of this on her own terms and rarely engages with the negative stuff that can come along with it. When it comes to her crushes and various boyfriends, these storylines are often used to illustrate healthy relationships.
The example I’m thinking of here is her relationship with Li’l Gideon, child psychic. Gideon pursues Mabel quite aggressively, pulling out all the stops to try and make her like him. He treats her to fancy dinners, firework displays, dancing – all the traditionally romantic things. Mabel, however, only sees him as a friend, but agrees to the first date just to be nice. She’s pressured into a relationship by the sheer force of his gift-giving and the desire to ‘let him down gently’, and winds up having to put her foot down when he goes nuts and tries to kill Dipper. Whereas other shows might portray Gideon’s efforts as romantic, sympathetic and ultimately worthy of indulgence, Gravity Falls makes it clear that he’s simply trying to manipulate Mabel into a relationship she does not want, and doesn’t shy away from portraying this as the guilt trip it really is.
The upshot of all this is that even though in some ways, Mabel is a character founded on a lot of traditionally feminine interests, that’s not all there is to her character. She has a range of interests which don’t limit or define her as a person. Her relationships, combined with the way she meets femininity on her own terms, all add up to a very positive portrayal. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 8.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Mabel’s relationships with other female characters are overwhelmingly positive. She looks up to her older friend, Wendy, and often goes to her for advice. She’s rivals with the Most Popular Girl in School™, Pacifica Northwest, but this eventually fizzles out into a grudging friendship. She befriends two outcasts, Candy and Grenda, using their mutual weirdness as common ground. These are the relationships we see most often, and it’s worth noting that Mabel goes out of her way to support her friends, rarely displaying the ‘bitchy’ behaviour that sometimes characterises female friendships on TV. Mabel’s relationships with other female characters are always portrayed as genuine and sincere, whether she’s dealing with friends or enemies.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10
Mabel is a well-rounded, consistent character who’s in control of her own destiny, has a range of strengths and weaknesses and develops over the course of her story. She has a range of relationships with other female characters and approaches gender stereotypes from her own unique perspective. She gets kidnapped one too many times but that’s by no means the limit of her influence on the plot – she’s firmly in control of her own destiny.
Next week, I’ll be heading back to some of the literary classics. Daisy Buchanan, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.