New from Jon Espino on The Young Folks: Steven Universe: The Movie Review: These same gems shine bright in a new light

In case you’re still living in a Steven Universe-free world, this is your entry point. Starting a new series is a daunting task, especially when it’s already five seasons deep, but Steven Universe: The Movie provides a standalone experience that is sympathetic to Crystal Gem novices, but rewarding to existing fans. 

Six years ago, we were gifted this show from the humanist mind of Rebecca Sugar. I can’t even begin to imagine how this musical show about agender gems and a hybrid gem/human was even pitched to Cartoon Network, but it has become a cultural phenomenon—and rightfully so. This children’s television show—that I admittedly watch religiously—is easily one of the most wholesome and empathetic pieces of animation on TV today. The songs range from something as silly as a cat-shaped ice cream sandwich all the way to more mature material such as trying to be a better person than your parents were. In this 90 minute film, we revisit the show’s greatest hits both musically and thematically, and that never feels like a negative.

With series creator Rebecca Sugar in the director’s chair, every ounce of gem-tastic purity remains intact. We get more of the Steven Universe we love, but also with a new maturity that is meant to reflect the maturing fans that started the series as children. After the season-ending climax in the television show, I had no idea where the series could go from there. Everything that the show had been building towards since the first episode finally came to a close. That’s where the need for this film became obvious. Steven Universe: The Movie serves as a stopgap, letting the series finally grow up while letting newcomers know what to expect should they chose to continue the series. Not only do we get a time jump and a Steven with an actual neck, but we also get a glimpse into what the series has in store for us when it comes back. 

Although the production value does see a mild upgrade, this film essentially feels like a longer episode because of how effortlessly it fits in with the tone and overall vibe of the smaller-screen universe. That can be attributed to having the television show’s story developer, Ian Jones-Quartey, create the story for this standalone entry. We get to see all of our favorite characters, and even the new characters integrate into the world so organically that they feel like an old friend. The greatest change that we see comes with the embrace of old Hollywood musical elements. The opening will trigger our nostalgic sensibilities, but never actually feel outdated. 

While the show itself is a cartoon with the occasional musical number every season, the film goes full Disney musical and I couldn’t be happier for it. Like any musical, there are so many songs that some will inevitably be hit or miss, but remarkably there are a lot more hits here. Not only do we get the vocal talents of the original cast—notably Zach Callison, Estelle, and Deedee Magno—but we also get some other incredible talent returning in the secondary cast, with the likes of Aimee Mann, Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole, and Uzo Aduba. Aivi Tran and Steven Velema continue to compose the music for the Steven Universe universe, but with contributions from artists like Estelle, Mann, Ted Leo and Chance the Rapper, a majority of the songs are given a more dynamic—and catchy—flow. 

Everything in Steven Universe: The Movie will seem familiar, but only because that’s the film’s entire purpose. We are taken for a walk in this vibrant, familiar world only to start realizing that nothing has remained exactly the same; no one should remain that way. We are ever-evolving as people, but the change is always for the better if it is part of our personal growth. Steven is reminded of this fact during the climactic final confrontation, and it proves to be a testament to everything that Rebecca Sugar has built that even as adults we need to be reminded of this. There is a newfound maturity that the show promises with this film; a glimpse into the new direction the show will take when it returns.

from Jon Espino – The Young Folks

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