Most cartoons never explain what it is like to grow up, making it hard for juvenile and adult audiences to relate to them. Of course, there are funny cartoons like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad. However, these act simply as comedic relief for ordinary life and the characters never age with the viewers.
Cue Rebecca Sugar. She may not be a household name, but she has created something to appease aging kids whose childhoods are slowly being stripped away. Six years ago, Sugar created Steven Universe, a show about Steven, a young human alien hybrid, being raised on Earth by three misfit aliens, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst, known as the Crystal Gems. Throughout the series, he learns how to control his powers, captures corrupted aliens, and to not only establish intergalactic peace, but also peace within himself. The show itself illustrates high levels of character development as the characters deal with issues like discrimination, love, heartbreak, and variations of anxiety.
After five seasons, Sugar carried the story of Steven and his family into a full-length movie, Steven Universe: The Movie. The movie takes place two years after the events that occurred in the season five finale. Steven Universe: The Movie opens with a grand melody like a fairytale beginning. Ironically, the first notable song is “Happily Ever After”; this acts as a short recap of the series. The Gems sing of their woes and past struggles, explaining how they have grown and become better versions of themselves. Steven, voiced by Zach Callison, sings about the pain he has endured from being compared to his mother. This verse essentially describes how he has grown into his own person and has developed his own legacy. The song then continues into Pearl, Garnet, and Amethyst’s stories. Pearl, voiced by Deedee Mango Hall, sings about overcoming her slave-like existence and forgiving herself for loving someone who did not reciprocate her feelings and how she appreciates her freedom. Garnet, voiced by Estelle, sings about discovering the truth in herself and how love can lead people to unexpected places. Lastly, Amethyst, voiced by Micheala Dietz, sings a melody of how she was isolated for the first part of her life, not knowing what her purpose was, but then realizing that her destiny was to be a member of the family she has now found. Collectively, they have found their “happily ever after” which in the past, seemed impossible.
Unfortunately, this is not their happy ending. Springing from the roots of this song, the antagonist, Spinel, enters with one of the most iconic and well-composed villain songs. “Other Friends” features spiteful and mocking lyrics brought to life by the voice talents of Sarah Stiles. Spinel is stuck in the past and is angry with Steven’s mother, causing her to take her anger out on Steven and the Crystal Gems. By the end of the song, Spinel overpowers the group which makes them backpedal and succumb to their past uncertainties and insecurities. The one impacted the most is Steven who is lost, confused, and without his friends.
“Other Friends” sets up a downward spiral of emotion and challenges wrapped in a well-orchestrated bow. After the battle with the Crystal Gems, Spinel leaves a poisonous machine running which slowly injects toxic chemicals into the earth. Steven seeks counsel from another gem, Bismuth, voiced by Uzo Aduba. She gives him the pep talk of the era, telling him that, “we never give up. We never give up on our friends.”
The soulful lyrics belted by Aduba are sweetly hardened by her belligerent attacks on each verse she sings in “Who We Are.” The track develops the plot further by creating a solution to Steven’s problem. Steven realizes he must help the gems rediscover what makes them their own. The next notable song is “Isn’t It Love,” where two gems realize their love for each other. Sapphire, a high class gem with powers to see into the future, saves Ruby, her guard. When they touch they combine to create the early form of Garnet, and they realize that they never want to be apart.
Following this, Steven slowly begins assisting the Gems to regain their personalities. Steven and Amethyst duet in “No Matter What.” Tap-dancing sequences weave in and out of the scene. Steven lets Amethyst know she will never have to be alone again because they will always have each other, binding them together forever.
After the first attempt to revert Pearl goes wrong, Steven comes up with the idea to recreate the time when his mom disappeared and Pearl became fully independent. In “Independent Together,” sung by Amiee Mann and Ted Leo, Pearl realizes that no one is keeping her from being herself and from being a strong independent Gem. By coming to this understanding, Pearl is restored to the being she was before. This song shows all of the other Gems bonding and having fun together. Spinel is cast to the side, just like how she was in her past, causing her to feel left out.
The audience is then graced again by Sarah Stiles’s voice; this time in a silky ballad, “Drift Away.” It focuses on Spinel’s perspective during the six thousand years she stood alone in Steven’s mother’s garden. For Spinel, this caused severe emotional trauma. However, Steven is able to befriend Spinel and gets her to remove her poison injector from the earth. After, Steven turns his attention back to his other friends which causes Spinel to lose control of her emotions again and accuse Steven of abandoning her just like how his mother did years before.
Spinel gives into her insecurity that she is not cared about. Luckily, the one thing Garnet lives for is the truth, leading to the R&B song, “True Kinda Love.” Estelle’s sultry voice caresses the audience’s eardrums as Garnet regains herself and joins the Crystal Gems in stopping Spinel from harming Steven. The message of this song is that the truth will always overpower the evil in the world and within oneself. By the end of this song, Steven climbs the top of Spinel’s machine in order to calm her down. “Change” is a six-letter word that Steven believes anyone is capable of. This song marks the last fight scene of the movie. While fighting, Steven sings about how if he can make a change for the better, then Spinel can too. However, like any person who has trust issues she responds, “no, no, you don’t understand. You can’t change the way I feel.”
Blinded by her emotions, she begins to senselessly beat Steven. Though badly injured, Steven returns to the empowered individual he was at the beginning of the movie. Spinel then realizes she does not have to take out her anger on people she barely knows when instead, she could be moving on with her life.
After 168 episodes and a musical outlined in 38 songs, the story arc of Steven Universe comes to a close and the ending is enveloped into one song: the “Finale.” In this piece, Steven describes his new “happily ever after.” From then on, he and the Gems decide they will happily fight whatever comes in their way to make a change. Cartoons and music are two different things, but they both define human culture. Rebecca Sugar, alongside the co-creators and producers, have made a beautiful blend of both medias. Not only was the plot and music well executed, but over the past six years, they have been able to create something that grew with their audience. The characters, for the most part, are not human, nor do they do normal human activities; however, they do exhibit the same internal and external struggles that viewers face in their normal lives. Sometimes adults and teenagers just need to sit back and watch something that is colorful and relatable to escape their own struggles, and Steven Universe does just that.