‘Steven Universe: The Movie’ is an exceptional continuation of a beloved show
Disclaimer: While this review does not contain spoilers for Steven Universe: The Movie, it contains spoilers for the events of Steven Universe.
When one thinks of influential children’s cartoons from the 2010s, Steven Universe is one of the first that comes to mind. Since its debut in 2013, Rebecca Sugar’s brain child has been praised for its three-dimensional cast of characters, beautiful soundtrack, and wonderful handling of mature themes. Despite its inconsistent airing schedule and occasional rough moments, Steven Universe’s strengths really outshine its weaknesses and is easily one of the best children’s shows ever made. As is the case with most successful cartoons, a TV movie was pretty much inevitable, and what better place to do it than after the end of a major story arc? Being the show’s first feature-length outing, Steven Universe: The Movie is a phenomenal addition to the show’s narrative and does a wonderful job bridging the gap between the earlier seasons and the upcoming post-time skip season.
Exploring the show’s themes deeper
Steven Universe: The Movie takes place two years after the Season 5 finale. The diamonds have since ended their cruel dictatorship, and Earth is finally safe from their constant threat. Humans and gems are living in harmony, and Steven is finally able to live a normal life (also he finally grew a neck). However, this era of peace comes to an end when a mysterious new gem named Spinel comes to Earth with the intent of killing Steven and destroying Earth. Using her scythe, the antagonistic gem wipes the memories of the Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl and leaves Steven completely powerless. Now it’s up to Steven to help the gems regain their memory and put a stop to Spinel’s plan before the earth is destroyed.
Film adaptations of cartoons are usually kind of a mixed bag. Even if the show itself is good, there are a lot of cases where a show known for 11 minute self-contained stories just doesn’t lend itself well to a 90 minute format, so you have cases of writers unnecessarily raising the stakes to the point where it starts to feel like someone’s fanfiction. While there are plenty of stand-out examples of cartoon movies that maintain the charm of their source material such as The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, often times you’ll end up with something like the Recess movie, which is so divorced from the show’s usual stakes that it feels like the characters were plopped into a completely unrelated movie. Luckily, since Steven Universe is more plot-oriented and has more experience with long-form storytelling, the movie is able to avoid this problem and feels like a natural extension of the show.
As far as the plot itself is concerned, it’s one of the best the show has to offer. A consistent theme throughout the show is that Steven’s mother, Rose Quartz, is not a very good person. A lot of the main conflicts in the show were caused from her recklessness, and she left her son to deal with the mess she left behind. This plot point is one of my favorite aspects of the show, because it explores the idea of parental figures not always being great people and coming to terms with that, which is a rare message to see in children’s media. The movie continues to run with this idea, as the central conflict here was also the result of Rose’s previous actions. Having a more mature Steven confront these issues again is a great way to explore this theme even further, especially seeing as he’s now dealing with someone who was personally hurt by his mom. Considering what Rose did to Spinel, it makes sense why she holds such resentment towards her. While in earlier seasons Steven would try to rationalize Rose’s behavior, he just flat-out admits that what his mother did was awful and that Spinel is justified in hating her. While some critics of the show dislike Steven for being too much of a pushover, that scene alone shows that he isn’t as naive as he was in the earlier episodes and understands that some actions can’t be easily forgiven.
Same great characters, fantastic new villain
Speaking of Spinel, she’s such a great antagonist for this movie. Her backstory and motivations make her an incredibly compelling antagonist that compliments the themes of the film well. Steven Universe does a great job at fleshing out its antagonists and giving them a ton of depth, and Spinel is no exception. It also helps that her personality is a ton of fun, too. Her design being based on 1920’s rubber hose animation gives her a unique gimmick that lends itself well to some fun comedic moments and creative action scenes. She’s the perfect balance of funny, threatening, and emotionally complex that the series is able to strike with most of its antagonists, to the point where I’m almost kinda sad that she’s a one-off character who might not have much of a presence in future episodes. I honestly hope she has some kind of presence in the later episodes, because she’s easily one of my new favorite characters.
Aside from the deeper exploration of the show’s themes, the film’s plot is really enjoyable. Despite being in a much longer format than the usual 11 minute fare, the plot really doesn’t drag at all and keeps things going. It’s also really nice to see the other gems play a bigger role in this movie while the main gem trio is MIA. Lapis’ presence within the main group has been incredibly inconsistent throughout the show and Bismuth hasn’t been part of the main cast for super long, so seeing them in the spotlight gives me hope that they’ll play a bigger role in the later seasons.
Featuring a lustrous soundtrack and visuals
Seeing that Steven Universe is a show well known for its musical numbers, it should come as a surprise to no one that this film is a musical. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t do a full musical episode sooner, because the show really lends itself well to that kind of format. Just like in the show, the songs in the movie are incredibly well written and do a great job at fleshing out its main cast. To name a few standouts, “Other Friends” is a wonderfully catchy introduction for Spinel that fits her 1920s cartoon aesthetic, “Happily Ever After” invokes a feeling of nostalgia for the earlier episodes while showing how far these characters have come, and “Drifting Away” is an emotionally powerful song that explores the tragedy of Spinel’s backstory. I could go on about all the songs I love because there’s so many great ones, but this review would be as long as the film if I did that. If you love the show’s music, there’s a good chance you’ll also adore the movie’s soundtrack.
On the visual side, the animation team did not skimp out for the movie. Being a higher budget project than the average episode, the animators had a lot more freedom to make the animation more fluid and deliver some more ambitious action scenes. The film looks absolutely stunning as a result, and is probably the best the show has ever looked. The climax in particular is wonderfully animated and features some of the best-looking animation I’ve seen from a TV production. A lot of this film’s exceptional animation can be traced back to Takefumi Hori, a Japanese animator from Studio Trigger who has worked on projects such as Little Witch Academia, Samurai Champloo, and even the “Mindful Education” episode of Steven Universe. His talent definitely shines through in this film, as he’s quite well known for animating incredibly fluid and fast-paced action scenes. Steven Universe has been somewhat inconsistent when it comes to visual quality, but when it’s good, it really hits it out of the park, and this film definitely exceeded expectations in that area.
Featured Image: IMDb
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