Friday, June 21, 2024

Steven Universe: The Movie Lovingly Recaps the Series

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In my experience, most movies based on television shows tend to do things this way. Steven Universe: The Movie treads down much the same path as South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut or The Simpsons Movie. It reminds us of what we love about Steven Universe, crafting nostalgia around a threat a world state so painstakingly earned over 5 seasons.Over the course of a brisk hour-and-a-half, we revisit how we got here, who these characters were, and what they are now. 

And like the best of these movies, Steven Universe: The Movie does a wonderful job reminding me why I love this show so much. I can’t imagine anyone who likes this show not liking this movie.

Warning: Major spoilers below

The crux of the plot deals with the restoration of the Crystal Gems’ memories. The villain, a gem named Spinel, attacks Earth with a poisonous injector poised to kill all organic life on Earth. She also wields a weapon that not only poofs the Crystal Gems, it resets them back to factory settings. Pearl goes back to the day she first emerged to serve Pink Diamond, Ruby and Sapphire go back to the day Ruby first began serving Sapphire, and Amethyst returns to the day she first emerged alone from the Kindergarten. Steven even has his powers reset, though he does not poof. Apparently he may bit poof-proof?

The plot revolves around Steven’s efforts to regain their memories and his powers. He accomplishes this by recreating their experiences. As such, Steven Universe: The Movie hits at all the nostalgia buttons of Garnet’s reformation, Amethyst’s past, and Pearl’s transformation from mindless servant to the rebellious lesbian we all know and love.

This may sound repetitive in concept, but the Crewniverse does a wonderful job pacing these rediscoveries and tying them directly into the threat to Earth, rather than simply setting these situations up and hoping the audience just enjoys revisiting Steven Universe’s past. They also do a great job of never losing sight of the long history between these characters. It all feels like a proper exploration of where they’ve been and how far they’ve come rather than a mindless bashing of of the nostalgia button.

I also loved these looks at who these gems used to be before we met them as Crystal Gems. We’ve seen some of it, but not to this degree. We’ve seen some of Pearl as Rose’s mindless servant, but here we literally see how Pearls begin. We see Amethyst as she was when she emerged, a literal child copying the behaviors and appearances of everyone around her. We see Ruby and Sapphire as a high-ranking gem and her protector. Early Garnet even gets an appearance, an adorable, innocent, entirely too precious new fusion rediscovering what the beauty of herself and Earth.

I have a lot of questions about the Crystal Gems and the nature of gems as a whole after this movie. Particularly involving Pearls and Amethysts.

In the end, we see them come back around to the gems they developed into, in large part by rediscovering their shared history.

Steven undergoes the same kind of rediscovery as he helps his friends and tries to regain his powers. However, I feel this wasn’t handled quite as well his Crystal Gem family. His conclusion at the end certainly makes sense, but doesn’t feel quite as earned as everyone else. He spends so much of the movie focusing on everyone else that when it comes time for him to focus on himself, things tie up a little too neatly and suddenly.

It’s far from unearned. We’re talking degrees of good here, to be sure. And Steven’s arc certainly fits within a familiar tune with Steven Universe; the tune of Steven having to clean up a mess belonging to his mother, Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz.

Spinel is a remarkable villain. Half-Mickey Mouse, half-Jesse from Toy Story, she is a 1930s rubber hose animation of the highest quality, with a tragic backstory rivaling any other Steven Universe character. The only thing keeping her from claiming my personal top spot among this show’s villains is Peridot. She’s easily THE reason to watch this movie.

A former plaything of Pink Diamond in her pre-Earth days, she was abandoned on a world she shared with Pink once Pink grew bored and wanted a colony. Pink literally tells her to stay put where she is, and Spinel listens. For 6,000 years.

Pink really sucks. I imagine this movie will reset whatever positive feelings the fandom felt for her after season 5.

Spinel finally stops when she views an Empire-wide broadcast by the Diamonds which begins the movie, and sees Steven has replaced Pink. Spinel is a truly tragic villain. A frightened child fueled by pain and abandonment issues. She bursts on the scene with maniacal stretchy bouncing and a catchy fight song. Her history with Pink delivers another fantastic song, one that immediately earned a place near the top of my all-time favorite Steven Universe songs. She’s a remarkable villain that serves as a love letter to the old days of animation history and arguably serves as a metaphor for how those days have also been abandoned.

She’s yet another example of the Crewniverse’s skill with emotional honesty. Yes, Spinel eventually comes around by the end, so fans hoping for the irredeemable badass Steven has to shatter will be disappointed. For the rest of us, Spinel undergoes a hard-earned journey earning every peak and valley.

I continue to be amazed by how the Crewniverse manages such convincing character development in such a short run-time. Spinel’s emotions feel so real. Her bitterness over Pink is so visceral and recognizable. When she backslides from near-redemption near the end, it makes perfect sense. She has every reason to distrust Steven in the moment. I really can’t speak highly enough about this character She’s visually, emotionally, and thematically exceptional in every way.

The only possible complaint I have is the nature of the ending. It makes sense, and certainly has the best of intentions, but I feel like opinions will depend on what you think of certain characters involved. I didn’t completely buy it where others will. It’s a minor complaint, but one weakening Spinel’s ending and the ending of the movie.

Still, I love that she fell right into the familiar Steven Universe pattern of not “redeeming” her villainy, but helping her heal from her pain. Every villain on this show falls into this category and Spinel sides right alongside them. She isn’t a bad person. She’s traumatized, and this story is about helping her accept her pain and find a way past it. This is why Steven Universe always manages such effective emotional honesty in its story. It wants to understand all kinds of pain and help you past it.

Despite all this focus on the past of Steven Universe, my favorite thing about this movie was the present and future we see for the first time post-“Change Your Mind.” Steven Universe: The Movie takes place 2 years after Steven’s successful conversion of the Diamonds. The Diamonds have abandoned imperialism. A Little Homeworld town has been established outside Beach City for gems to live in. The beach house is bigger and better, Beach City is changed, Sade Killer and the Suspects have made the big-time. Humans and gems coexist happily.

While this definitely serves its own nostalgic purposes, showing us just how much has changed since Steven Universe began, it also serves to establish the new status quo moving forward. Things have really changed. What will it mean to have so many gems now living freely on Earth? What tensions may arise between them and humanity? Will they find a proper purpose now, or be content just living on Earth as is? Where in the world is Jasper?

Steven Universe: The Movie shows us a glimpse of the future Steven has wanted all along. A place where gems, humans, and everyone can live happily freely, and together to face the problems.

Of course, there is also a happy remembrance in this present and future that the movie embraces. There’s a happy feeling I get from seeing Lapis so happy and embracing of life beside Peridot and Bismuth. I love seeing formerly corrupted gems just living their lives, knowing what happened to them before. Sadie making it big and Lars proudly serving ube to his off-color friends shows just how far they’ve come.

There are legitimate questions about where future seasons of Steven Universe can go without the overarching Diamond threat. While this movie doesn’t establish any villain or conflict to drive things afterwards, I think there’s plenty of material to explore simply within this new status quo. What is Homeworld like now? How many gems resent the new way of things throughout the empire? What difficulties arise between Little Homeworld and Beach City? Who are all these healed gems and will we get to know them?

It’s not enough to carry an entire season. Not quite. It is enough to move forward, though, and I’d be quite happy with 1/3 or even half a season just showing us what things are like now.

In the end, Steven Universe: The Movie exists for the people who worked so hard making the show, the fans, and for the characters we all love. It exists to celebrate 5 wonderful seasons of one of the best animated kids shows ever made. I can’t really say it stands as its own story, separate from Steven Universe as a show. You can’t watch this without knowing the history and really get anything from it.

If you like this show, though, this movie will succeed for you. And it ultimately becomes a must-watch for fans just because of Spinel. Is there any reason that shouldn’t be enough? Steven Universe: The Movie is meant for us. I can’t imagine many fans not being satisfied.

Go watch this. Watch it 5 times. You’ll be entertained every single time.

Delightful Little Gems:

  • The FUSIONS. How I got through this entire review without mentioning Steg, the fusion of Steven and Greg, is beyond me. Then you add in Opal singing a song alongside him? Magnificent.
  • I want to once again gush over Spinel’s animation. They perfectly nailed that old-school Mickey Mouse feel.
  • Garnet loves a spork. She loves all fusion.
  • This movie’s soundtrack is an absolute banger. Great song after great song.
  • White Diamond is an immense drama queen.
  • I love that Bismuth has become the leader of Little Homeworld. At least that’s the impression I felt. She’s an OG Crystal Gem and one naturally suited to this role. She probably holds a leader’s esteem among many of the healed gems.
  • The healed gems are perfect. My favorites were the water gem, the puff fish gem, and the quartzes. Oh, and the heaven and earth beetles are still wives, so jot that down.
  • The parallels between Spinel and the song Rebecca Sugar wrote for Marceline during the Adventure Time miniseries “Stakes” are remarkable.
  • Gem weapons continue to be horrifyingly powerful and make even the Diamonds look like chumps.

Lingering Questions:

  • Just how new are those poison injectors Spinel used, and where did she get one?
  • I feel like the “new” Diamond personalities feel very forced and insincere. I can’t help but wonder what happens when the shine of having “Pink” back vanishes.
  • Are Spinels a common kind of gem, or was she designed specifically for Pink Diamond?
  • I am even more curious about Pink Pearl now.
  • What exactly is gem culture like now?
  • They opened the box in Lion’s mane? What’s in the boooooox??
Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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