I'm a huge Steven Universe fan. The show is five seasons of pure, exquisite fantasy, interlaced with meaningful messages, and a story that's so well written it genuinely rivals the greats. There's twists and turns, and characters mature and develop as the series goes on. And the music is simply fantastic, almost all written by the show's creator Rebecca Sugar. Music is a big part of Steven Universe, with a lot of the most pivotal moments being emphasised by a musical number, so it makes a heap of sense that the movie would be a full-on animated musical, again entirely written by Rebecca Sugar.
And yet here's where my very first criticism of the movie comes in. The music is pretty good again, no denying that, but it serves an entirely different purpose here. The movie wants to make sure you know this is a full-blown musical, rather than a cartoon with songs, so inserts a song at every single opportunity. Every time. There's seventeen songs in total, in an eighty minute movie, leaving only about half an hour of dialogue, plot, and action combined. In fact there's so many of them that it's overwhelming and means that the great ones are lost in the malaise of average ones, and you come out the other end without being able to recall a single one. For Steven Universe - a cartoon with such catchy and memorable songs like "Let Me Drive My Van Into Your Heart", "Lapis Lazuli", "Stronger Than You", "Do It For Her", "Peace and Love on the Planet Earth", "It's Over Isn't It", "Here Comes a Thought", and even the credits song "Love Like You" - it was disappointing that all the songs in the movie immediately faded into forgetfulness as soon as they finished. And finally the movie is so preoccupied with being a musical that it plays the most ill-fitting music over the film's climactic action sequence in order to keep the musical number that bookends it going, removing all tension and excitement from the scene. Things like this is why I have a bias against musicals and really dislike when songs are used in place of important dialogue, like it's totally normal to just break out into song and dance in the street.
The next problem I had with the movie (yes, there's a list, strap in) was how the vast majority of the story revolves around restoring the Crystal Gems to their current states. The villain bursts in and just resets every main character back to 0. It makes the movie feel like a glorified recap, except there's nothing to recap it for because the whole thing is a recap. Garnet doesn't even fully come back until the film's climax, and then she barely features because it's not about her. She's completely clueless up until then. Pearl is reset back to a servant, and her enlightenment happens so quickly and without fanfare that it makes you wonder what was even the point in resetting her anyway, other than for plot convenience. Amethyst gets the worst reset back to a literal blank slate who doesn't even have any kind of identity, but she's the first to regain it. Of course the big problem with the film's logic in restoring the characters is that many of their character-defining changes occured years before Steven was even born. They're tens of thousands of years old and Steven's only been around for the last sixteen years of their development as characters. So how does his memory jogging even help? Just sit back and accept it I guess.
However the dirty isn't only done against the reset characters. The Diamonds make small cameos at the beginning and end and they're annoyingly needy. They're great rulers of a distant world and countless colonies, but they struggle without Steven, who (again) they've only had in their lives for the last two years, out of thousands. Spinel just flat out annoyed me from beginning to end. There was potential in her character, at a fundamental level, because her backstory is genuinely heartbreaking, but beyond that she was just a clingy pest. No wonder she was abandoned by her only friend when she behaves like that. That and her paranoia and lack of trust makes sense in the story, and I understood the point, but that didn't stop me from just finding her intensely annoying. I didn't dig the 1930's Mickey Mouse animation style for her either. It made her stand out for all the wrong reasons; like she's in the wrong cartoon. Lapis doesn't even seem like her sarcastic self either, like she was replaced by a completely different Lapis.
And Connie, poor Connie gets completely sidelined! Again! Her and Steven's relationship, be it platonic or potentially romantic, is one of the most interesting aspects of the entire show. Except in the opening scene she leaves for Space Camp and isn't seen again until the third act, where she's more of a cameo seen rescuing people in the background. Okay, I'm really biased here because her and Stevonnie are probably my favourite characters in the whole thing, but she's barely a presence in the Steven Universe movie. Greg gets more screentime than she does! On which note the movie is decidedly sparse on fusions. I can understand why considering the fusion overload of the series finale Change Your Mind, but the one big fusion we do get is between Steven and Greg. No doubt it was interesting to see Steg, but it had no emotional weight, and considering how weak Steven's gem was at the time I'd be interested to know how he could even achieve it in the first place. Just like the criticism levelled at Change Your Mind's fusion collage, it felt unnecessary and unearned, thrown in just to show off a new fusion.
But I can't say this was a terrible movie. There were some aspects I did really like about it too. I mean it's Steven Universe, there's always going to be something about I like, and Rebecca Sugar and her crew will always have neat little creative flourishes that will make this show stand out from it's Cartoon Network peers.
What I liked most about the movie was the time jump. We're immediately thrust into a world two years after the events of Change Your Mind and things have changed. Steven, for starters, has grown up a lot. He's no longer the teenager masquerading as a small kid, but has now embraced his teenage self, physically growing taller, getting a deeper voice, and acts much more level-headed and mature. And it's fitting too, because a big part of the movie's overall message is about growing up and leaving childish things behind. Sure, it's a message we've already had from the Toy Story franchise, but Steven Universe puts its own spin on it. Spinel is modelled after 1930s Mickey Mouse precisely because she's a childish toy, a relic of the past, something that has been left behind after the world around her grew up, developed, and didn't need her anymore. It's sad, but life moves forward, and she needs to find her own place now that everyone else has moved on. Nothing lasts forever, and dwelling on the past is unhealthy.
The animation is really good too. There's definitely been a step-up in quality since the show, maybe thanks to having more of a movie budget than a TV show budget, but it shows. There's some neat scenes and shots that wouldn't have been possible otherwise, and the style and design feels neater and more refined. And as much as I disliked the overbearing Musical nature of the movie, there are some really good songs here. Spinel's introductory song - "Other Friends" - is pretty good and is a nice shift in musical tone that shows how capable Rebecca Sugar is as a musician. Her backstory song - "Drift Away" - is also really good. And then there's the movie's defining song "Happily Ever After" which is rich with references and motifs to songs in the show, such as piano tinkles during Garnet's lines that mirror "Stronger Than You", and lyrics that recur throughout the movie, albeit altered and changed to suit the various moods of the scenes they recur in.
Unfortunately I came out of the Steven Universe movie disappointed. It failed to recapture the magic of the show, and completely mistreated too many characters for me to really enjoy it. It almost felt like a pointless addition as Change Your Mind was such a great way to end the series, despite its flaws. And other than advancing the timeline ahead a couple of years, it didn't really leave much for a potential sixth season to build off of either, so I'm still left none-the-wiser as to what a sixth season could even focus on. It feels like they've told the story they wanted to tell, and are now just milking it for all it's worth. I give the Steven Universe movie a disappointing 610.
Review by PyroSikTh from the Internet Movie Database.