The Catalyst to My Fandom: Animation Rekindled My Love of Science

TV Animated Series
TV Animated Series

We all have that moment when the right fandom property at the right time changes our course, and we go on to dedicate our life to something. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for all of us to share those life-altering moments in fandom. For me, it was when animated shows like Danny Phantom and Gravity Falls rekindled my passion for science.

A couple of years ago, by lucky coincidence, I rediscovered a childhood favorite of mine, Danny Phantom. Through that “phandom,” I discovered Gravity Falls less than a year later. Since then, both cartoons (among others) have been an obsession for me, and I owe them a lot. Both shows share many similarities – particularly kids running around after the supernatural (or, in Danny’s case, being the supernatural) – that I love to get lost in developing further with theories and headcanons. In a time of uncertainty in my life, these shows made me fall in love all over again with something I had pushed to the back burners of my mind: science.

Before Danny Phantom and Gravity Falls

I had always loved science from a young age. With my dad being a chemist, the importance of science was stressed heavily in my early years of education. I remember wanting to be an inventor at one point (even going so far as to create a paper model of a hoverboard of my own design), along with various other scientific professions.

In the third grade, I joined my science teacher’s rock band, aptly named Scientific Jam. We performed songs about science in assemblies. And I remember being deeply invested in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. As a kid, I looked up to Jimmy. He was someone who could do “real” (aka potentially dangerous) science in the comfort of his backyard clubhouse.

But then it all… faded. I still had a love of science as I grew up and faced high school and beyond, but something changed. I went from wanting to be a scientist to wanting to be an actress, an NBA referee, a stage technician, and then, in college, an architect. Suddenly science wasn’t a priority anymore.

The Catalyst for My Fandom

When I reconnected with Danny Phantom back in 2014, it was like reconnecting with my younger self. More importantly, I realized that this was more than just science-fiction because it didn’t feel like science-fiction. It honestly felt like Danny Fenton was a normal teenager who just happened to have ghost powers. And his parents, Maddie and Jack, just happen to be successful inventors/scientists in the field of the supernatural. Plus, there was just enough legitimate science and technology thrown in to help bridge that nearly-nonexistent gap between the real world and cartoon physics. It’s all easy to believe, and I didn’t once bat an eyelash at the notion of whether ghosts were real or not. Everything, especially the science, felt natural, and all things ectoplasm and technology-related instantly drew me in.

Then I found Gravity Falls. Dipper and Mabel Pines’ summer vacation to their Grunkle Stan’s cabin in the woods is, in some ways, more personally relatable than Danny Phantom. Where Danny is supernaturally-charged, Dipper and Mabel, and everyone else in Gravity Falls, Oregon, are purposefully made to be human through and through. There are still mysteries and adventures and the lure of supernatural creatures, and, of course, science.

Gravity Falls was the first to really pull me in towards technology as something more than just to play games or listen to music on. From UFOs to its portal, it showed me that technology could achieve great things and help advance the world.

Ghosts and Portals

blueprint of ghost portal

In reality, it’s the portals of both shows that really form a trifecta between them and myself. Ultimately, that’s what made me start thinking about pursuing science again, particularly in the fields of astronomy – an area that always excited me – and technology. Both shows have portals located in basement laboratories that play crucial roles in the plots of their shows. The Fentons’ portal leads to the Ghost Zone, while the Pines’ leads to the multiverse, where Stan’s brother, Ford, was trapped for 30 years.

The idea of any kind of dimension beyond the normal realm of Earth is fascinating, which is why I find space so alluring. Getting to those dimensions through portals that you can simply build in the wall is also enticing, to say the least.

Is there any greater love than a boy and his PDA?

Why Danny Phantom and Gravity Falls Are So Special

There’s a reason why fans are still clamoring for a Danny Phantom reboot. It’s the perfect marriage of reality, technology, and the mysterious “beyond.” At its in-universe origins, it’s Maddie and Jack who create a ghost-hunting business that ultimately leads to Danny getting his powers from their portal. Maddie, in particular, encouraged me and has become an inspiration for girls to get interested in science. She’s the more scientifically competent of the Fenton couple and no one makes fun of her intellect or scientific aptitude.

Other than Maddie, I was also instantly drawn to Danny’s best friend, Tucker. Not only does he proudly wear his nerd status on his sleeve, which helps me to do the same, but his extreme love of technology officially made me want to be a programmer.

On the Gravity Falls-side of the coin, it’s the Pines family that tugged me towards the virtues and rewards (and even risks) of science. Dipper has such a raw curiosity for the world, and he uses Journal #3 to his advantage to satisfy it. His Grunkle Ford had abandoned his curiosity and replaced it with a more specific pursuit of scientific anomalies and the goal of destroying Bill Cipher.

As Grunkle Ford poses the question to his nephew when talking about Dipper’s future:

“Why wait?”

It’s a simple question, yet one that’s very motivating. If you’re passionate about something, there’s no time like the present to pursue it. This is perfectly summed up by Dipper’s last words of the series:

What’s great about animation is that it isn’t bound by the laws of physics or the current limits of technology. Both Danny Phantom and Gravity Falls certainly use this to their full advantage, particularly in creating new extra-dimensional worlds to explore. They subdue the science fiction aspect of it by perfectly melding the characters’ real-world lives and realistic problems, making them more relatable.

The Takeaway

Today, these cliffs. Tomorrow, the world.

It’s been a huge relief that I “found” science again. I’m currently teaching myself programming through online resources. I have ideas for apps and inventions, many of which are based on these shows, and I don’t want to wait. As they mention in Gravity Falls, I want to “turn science fiction into science fact.” Danny Phantom and Gravity Falls make me want to push and exceed the limits of science as we know it. They make me want to make the science and technology in my fandoms, and my dreams, a reality. Not just because they’re cool, but because these shows make them seem achievable.

I just need to stay curious.

Fandom is built on a foundation of passionate people with deep and unshakable knowledge spread across the entire pop culture landscape. The only way for that to manifest is timing: the right fan with the right property at the right time. Luminaries of film, music, television, games, and comics have all had that watershed moment where something infected them, and the impulse was too strong to ignore. We have shared some of those moments, and hopefully, you will join us in doing so as well.

Chrissie Miille is a Fan Contributor for FANDOM and an admin on the Danny Phantom Wiki. When not watching Danny Phantom, Gravity Falls, Voltron, or Star Trek, she's usually neck-deep in another fandom, following the Warriors, listening to Michael Jackson, or stargazing.
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