11. A children’s film: Steven Universe: The Movie
List Progress: 9/12 (+11)
I have taken a very circuitous path to watching the animated Cartoon Network show Steven Universe; I love it, but only when I’m in exactly the right mood and headspace, so I am far more likely to watch in bursts than consistently. I finished the main series, the five seasons running from 2013 to January 2019, but didn’t get around to watching the feature-length film which came out in September 2019. But when a epilogue mini-series, Steven Universe Future, ran from Dec 2019 through March 2020, it caught my attention and I binged it. So I go into Steven Universe: The Movie having watched the show on both sides of it, an unfair place to put a piece of media. That might be why my feelings are a bit more conflicted on it than if I had just watched it after the original series.
It should be noted that Steven Universe: The Movie is not for newcomers. While there is some recap at the beginning to remind everyone where the series ended and introduce the audience to the world of the two-year time skip from the finale, the characters and plot are heavily based on the original five seasons of development. This even ends up being the new villain’s method of attack, reverting the hero team the Crystal Gems to their original mindsets and reversing their years of growth and progress. Even the set-up of the movie involves a large number of secrets that were teased out slowly and gradually over the course of the series, and having them first spoiled here could lead to a very different way of digesting the show. If you are interested in this series, which I highly recommend, I would say start at the beginning. And if the sillier aspects of the first season aren’t your thing, I would recommend you skip to “Steven the Sword Fighter”, one of the earlier tastes of the tone the show will grow into, and a good barometer for whether you will like it as a whole.
Spoilers for the movie.
So for everyone who is familiar with the show, it’s great to see Steven as an older teenager, comfortable in the post-Diamond world that has been built. The higher animation budget is on full display and the music is lovely, as this show so often produces. But Steven Universe: The Movie left me a bit cold, because it feels like we are retreading ground we have covered a lot before, and without the deconstruction of Steven Universe Future that will make it feel fresh and new.
Spinel, one of Pink Diamond’s old playthings from before she became Rose Quartz, has realized how completely she was left behind, and comes to Earth to lash out at Steven and his friends. I was not a huge fan of Spinel’s 1920’s inspired animation style, but I respect them trying something new with this new character, setting her so completely apart from the status quo. My issue is that the series proper already had a fantastic conclusion built around Steven paying for the crimes of his mother, and I don’t see what more Spinel adds to this dynamic. The only real new element, the portrayal of how Pink treated her subordinates as well as her peers, is covered more fully and somewhat more believably in SUF’s Volleyball Pearl. I can understand Pink lashing out in a moment of rage and hurting Volleyball, or being prevented from returning and rescuing someone, like the people in the Human Zoo, far more than I buy her purposely abandoning someone who loved her unequivocally. While the story of Pink/Rose has always centered on showing the flaws in a mythologized hero, this feels like a step too far in the other direction.
Then once we get to Spinel’s arrival to Earth, it just raises a lot of questions. While I buy the Rejuvenator as a Gem construct, turning rebellious Gems back to their factory settings, it seems like a big deal for it to have never been mentioned before (as well as a weapon that you think would have been deployed against the rebellious Rose Quartz). Despite the fact that only a day or so seems to have passed between Steven’s message and Spinel’s arrival, she has time to get a Rejuvenator as well as a super Injector the likes of which we’ve never seen before, with no real explanation. Why did a princess’ pleasure garden have a weapon of omnicidal proportions available? And if this is not a special type of weapon just from the Garden, then why are the other Homeworlder’s so baffled by it? The Injector drives the ticking time clock of the movie, but its origin is confusing enough that it drew me out.
Back on the note of repeating plotlines, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl each have to explicitly repeat their original plotlines in order to progress, which feels unsatisfying for a feature-length film. None of it is bad, and I did enjoy seeing the original Pearl, and the implication that Amethyst is so strange because she had no one to copy when she first came out and had to rattle around by herself for thousands of years. There are actually a lot of great things in the film: Bismuth getting to sing, the reveal of Steg the fusion, a cameo by Aimee Mann, and a lot of really beautiful animation.
But at the end of the day, everything in the movie feels like it had parts that were done better elsewhere, either before or after. If I want victims lashing out through their grief, I’ll go to Lapis. If I want Pink betraying a trusted friend, I’ll go to Volleyball. If I want Amethyst, Pearl and Garnet to grow, I’ll go to the original series. If I want Steven to find that he can never have a true “happily ever after” and that he will keep growing and changing his whole life, I will go to Steven Universe Future. I do respect that SUF probably couldn’t have gone as fully into darker territory without the transitional space of the movie, but it’s probably not one I will return to much in rewatches.
Would I Recommend It: For a dedicated fan of the series, yes, but I don’t think it is Must-See in order to get Steven Universe.
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