Steven Universe: The Movie spins a gripping, emotional, and heartfelt tale about the importance of change, the belief in reaching out to others, and a love letter to its history.
Spoilers for Steven Universe: The Movie ahead.
Steven Universe is probably going to go down as a generation-defining animated program, like Looney Toons, Powerpuff Girls, or Adventure Time. Over the course of six years and five seasons, audiences have followed Steven (voiced by Zach Callison) and his family as the go up against monsters both external and internal.
Through it all, the shows has emphasized the radical power of kindness and empathy in Steven. He tries to understand and help the best way he could. In it, he saved the universe and found himself along the way.
On Monday, fans were finally treated to the long-awaited Steven Universe: The Movie. This full-tilt musical event took fans over some familiar ground, but also set up for more stories in this post time skip world.
With peace across the galaxy courtesy of Steven, the now 16-year-old has decided to head home to Beach City to live his “happily ever after” with his friends and family. That peace does not last with the introduction of Spinel (voiced by Sarah Stiles).
This antagonist with the old-timey cartoon aesthetic has a very personal vendetta against, unsurprisingly, Steven’s mother. Using a rejuvenator from Homeworld, she resets Pearl (voiced by Deedee Magno Hall), Amethyst (voiced by Michaela Dietz), and Garnet (voiced by Estelle) back to their default. Steven, meanwhile, has lost control of his abilities like in his younger years.
What follows is a condensed love letter to the series, firmly showcasing the wonderful character dynamics and development that Rebecca Sugar and her team nurtured for over five years. It’s a great starting point for people who are curious about the series but don’t want to watch the entire series.
While it feels like familiar ground to the fans of the series, it also showcases the change and growth of the characters. It maybe even shows their priorities more. Amethyst to have that sense of connection, Pearl to have her freedom, Garnet to have her truth and live it, and Steven’s ability to roll with the punches and change.
As Steven realizes, “happily ever after” isn’t something that’s really attainable. It’s not as cynical as you might think. One of the themes at the core of the series is the power of change. People can change whether it be human or gem. They can learn and grow and evolve to become the best versions of themselves. There is always growing to do. Without it, we just…stagnate.
It’s a beautiful thing, change. Because it means there are always more happy endings and maybe ones that aren’t so happy. It means that there are more beginnings too. It means that there is a way to evolve. Without the possibility to grow, then Steven could never use that kindness and empathy in order to reach out to an enemy and make a friend.
Spinel also showcases why we need that sort of emotional growth as well. She holds onto old hurts and anger so tightly that she almost destroys the world. Deep down, she doesn’t want to hold onto that anger. She wants to reach out and be accepted, but it’s hard when you’ve been hurt as badly as she has. Like many of the antagonists before her, this multi-layered approach to the character and her motivations allow audiences, like Steven, to empathize and want to see her saved. Even if she has to be saved from her own worst impulses. Sarah Stiles, a Broadway veteran, does an amazing job with the character bringing a sort of Harley Quinn meets Betty Boop quality to her voice. Not to mention that her song “Other Friends” is one of the best villain songs outside of a Disney movie that I’ve heard in a long time.
It goes without saying that the songs of Steven Universe: The Movie are, like the series proper, perfection. “Let Us Adore You” harkens back to the old Disney movies of yesteryear while “True Kinda Love” gives a mellow lo-fi beat to it. Other standouts include the insanely catchy “No Matter What” to the classic rock inspired “Independent Together”.
Sugar has expressed that she would love the series to continue following the movie. To be honest, so would we. It’s a brand new world out there for Steven and the Crystal Gems, who knows what will come next? We can’t wait to find out.
Steven Universe has 4 seasons available for streaming on Hulu and airs on Cartoon Network. Steven Universe: The Movie is available for digital download for both the film and the soundtrack.