It only seems like the other day, when Steven Universe aired it’s season five finale – an ending that, to this day, remains one of the strongest I have ever seen. Although it is unclear if the show will return for future seasons, it definitely accomplished a lot with its fifth season, tying up every single narrative thread. But we also all knew that that would not be the final time we would see Steven and the Crystal Gems, for it had already been confirmed that the characters would return for a made-for-TV movie, one that would be set two years after season five’s epic conclusion. And although the movie arguably adds very little to the overall franchise and mythology, it still packs a punch as a deeply emotional and beautifully told animated story.
Following a now sixteen-year-old Steven, we see that life in Beach City is peaceful and happy. Steven and his friends are well, and now live in harmony with the uncorrupted gems, who have formed their own mini community at the site of Peridot and Lapis’s barn. Steven sees this new period in his life as being his ‘happily ever after’, and he doesn’t want anything to ruin it. That is until a new Gem comes to Earth, with plans to exact her revenge on Steven and his planet. In five minutes this new Gem has poofed Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, and has even robbed Steven of his own gem-based powers. With the doomsday clock ticking, Steven has to do what he can to save the world.
From the outset this film strikes with its beautiful animation. Known as a staple of the Steven Universe franchise, the animation here is just as grand as that seen in the season five finale, and Steven’s new teenager design helps to cement the film as a continuation of Rebecca Sugar’s overall narrative. In many ways this film feels almost like a recall to the show’s earliest seasons, with Steven having handle the situation without his powers close to hand. And after two years of undisturbed peace, it is easy to see why Steven becomes so emotionally broken at the prospect of having to once again clean up his mother’s mess.
Speaking of which, this film also gives us one of the franchise’s most distinguishable and interesting villains in the form of new Gem – Spinel. In the past Sugar has spoken about the various artistic inspirations for each Gem character, and it seems that here she was inspired by the cartoon of old. In fact, Spinel seems to have more in common with Steamboat Willie than she does the other gems. With her elastic limbs and oversized gloved hands recalling the most iconic animated characters of old. Sugar also gifts the character a fantastic villain song in the form of ‘Other Friends’, which I’m sure we will soon see on a future ‘Top 10 Non-Disney Villain Songs’ list. Sarah Stiles provides the vocal performance for the character and she does amazing work, giving Spinel a over-the-top cartoonish voice, but one that she can also fill with emotion if needs be.
The other songs are also indicative of Sugar’s talent, and the rest of the voice cast do a fantastic job executing both the dialogue and musical numbers. Particular stands out for me being ‘Drift Aaway’ and ‘Independent Together.’ I would also like to highlight Uzo Aduba’s brilliant performance as Bismuth, which remains are strong as ever. The actress was even given a musical number in the film that turned out to be something of a heavy metal edition of the Crystal Gems theme, it may sound strange but Aduba makes it work. Deedee Magno Hall also excels once again as Pearl, with her vocals still standing out as the most beautiful and emotive in the bunch. But overall the cast do a fantastic job, making this film a delight to watch and listen to.
In terms of narrative, the film does a fine job of taking a rather basic premise for the Steven Universe canon and rejuvenating it. The story overall is a strong one and it is brimming with the usual Steven Universe emotional drama, but I did like how the film once again brought up Pink Diamond’s past and her problematic actions. The fact that Steven can ‘totally’ believe what his mother did to Spinel is almost hilarious, as if he has totally accepted that his mother really wasn’t the Saint everyone says she was. The fact that Pink’s past mistakes still haven’t been fully resolved may also hint to another season of the show on the horizon – or at least I hope so.
Although the film may not cover any new ground in terms of its narrative, it proves to be a beautifully crafted love letter to the fans, thanking them for all they have done for the show and it’s universal success. Although it is still unclear if this is the end of Steven Universe forever, I think it adds another delicious layer to the overall narrative. I could go on about the various Easter eggs and OMG! Moments, because this film is packed with them, but for now I will end this review by saying that this film is not one to be missed by lovers of Sugar’s dazzling world. It’s fun, colourful and it has great songs – what’s not to love?