‘Steven Universe: The Movie’ is Heartfelt, yet Unrefined

Since its pilot debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, Steven Universe has become something of a modern cult classic. Critically acclaimed from the start and ever-so-quickly finding a home with the Tumblr fandom hive, its heart, passionate storytelling, and dedication to representing the LGBTQ+ community have shot Steven and the Crystal Gems into the hearts of many. Taking the plunge into the realm of the full-on musical (the show has dabbled in musical numbers in the past, but not to such a degree as this) was a left-field call from series creator and director Rebecca Sugar, but thankfully, for the most part, it works in the favor of Steven’s film foray.

Taking place two years after the climax of the show’s fifth series, the story follows Steven, who finds himself in a bid to save the planet once again from mysterious gem Spinel, who destroys the source of Steven’s powers and resets the gems to their original forms, wiping their memories in the process as her giant drill primes to wipe out all organic life on Earth. The film dedicates its first ten minutes to ensuring its viewers are caught up with the story so far by means of a storybook-themed retelling and charming song of Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl’s origins to set up the tale to come; this will be welcome to newcomers or casual fans who may have some gaps of knowledge to fill, but it could well become boring for the seasoned fans, forced to sit through information that they already know.

The majority of songs across the board are well-composed and fit snugly within the whimsical musical composition of the series, yet others feel uninspired and boring. Some lyrics feel much too on the nose and simple to have an long-lasting effect, and frames of animation are left empty and lifeless as they wait for the next musical bar to commence along with them. This is thankfully not repeated too often, and most songs help to aid the whimsy and passion of the story.

While the plot has a message primed perfectly for kids about friendship and dealing with loss, for the older viewers (who have become the primary audience for Steven Universe) it can be quite predictable. The characters have endured their fair share of hardships come the story’s close, but it doesn’t feel transformative to the extended plot whatsoever, leading the events that unfold in Steven Universe: The Movie to feel inconsequential, and as though they’ll never be revisited. Despite this, the story still feels natural in the (ahem) universe of the series, and it’s filled with the gorgeous animation, quality gags and endearing characters writing you’ve come to expect from the show. Its presentation and voice acting is as stellar as ever, and the warmth of the series is far from lost in the TV-to-film filter.
Steven Universe: The Movie certainly isn’t perfect, but under the slightly rickety exterior is a heart of gold. The characters are still lovable, the plot is still heartwarming and well-meaning, and it serves as a great accompaniment to the series. It won’t connect nearly as well with newcomers as it will the fans who have been with the series from the start, but for those who fell in love with Steven Universe for its unique charm and whimsical loveliness, there’s definitely some fun to have with this.

by Joseph Kime

Joseph Kime is a writer and journalist from Plymouth, with a speciality in film and music. He is a member of indie-punk band As It Stands, is studying Journalism at MarJon University, and is unapologetically anti-Tory. His favourite films include Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verseHot Fuzz, and Thor: Ragnarok. He spouts garbage on Twitter here and talks films on Letterboxd here.

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