'Steven Universe The Movie' expertly tackles mental health and the notion of change

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Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe has always been Rebecca Sugar’s love letter to the queer community. The show has given us groundbreaking representation, casually normalizing gay love and trans identities and specifically highlighting non-binary characters. For once queer characters aren’t used as tokens. Sugar has created a narrative that positions our stories and unique struggles alongside the mental health problems that plague modern American culture. Even more impressive, these issues are packaged so openly and simply - they fit perfectly into a show geared towards kids.

Steven Universe The Movie continues to expand on this foundation with a refresher course on the show’s key tenants. The plot kicks off with vengeful gem Spinel’s attack on the Crystal Gems, which results in a factory reset of our heroes that can only be repaired by reliving their character development arcs.

Spinel’s silhouettes nicely inform her identities. They really showcase the SU team’s exceptional character design skills.

Spinel’s silhouettes nicely inform her identities. They really showcase the SU team’s exceptional character design skills.


It’s kind of a genius move as it welcomes new viewers with a solid rundown of the Crystal Gems’ stories to date, reminds existing fans how far these characters have come, and demonstrates Sugar’s philosophy on healthy emotional behavior. Amethyst recovers via Steven’s reassured friendship. Pearl regains her self-confidence and Garnet rediscovers the importance of integrity, towards others as well as herself.

Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait (for you to say Garnet).

Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait (for you to say Garnet).


Sadly, the cloyingly sweet Spinel has undergone this process in reverse.

The trauma inflicted upon her by Pink Diamond has emotionally damaged Spinel to the point that she doesn’t believe in friendship, integrity, or her own self-worth. Upon discovering she’d been abandoned and forgotten by the person she unflinchingly loved, Spinel sees her life as a cruel joke. The wrath of that epiphany carries her across the galaxy to attack those who were closest to Pink/Rose, and she gleefully erases Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl’s memories of Rose. Even more poignantly, when Steven hits her with the Rejuvenator, Spinel’s expression is one of joy as she thinks her trauma is being erased, although we later learn it was only compartmentalized.

Yikes. That painful smile may be the most chilling thing in the movie.

Yikes. That painful smile may be the most chilling thing in the movie.


The crux of the movie, however, is Steven’s ability to change and grow.

In the past, whether it be his attitude or his approach, Steven has always been willing to give something or someone a chance. His unwavering belief in people to grow and change for the better lives in the show’s heart. It’s what allows him to connect with the devastated Spinel, even during her worst moments. It’s why his “weapon” is a shield and his powers are all related to healing and protection.

That neck seems to come and go, eh?

That neck seems to come and go, eh?


The movie’s climax is Steven’s realization that he has to direct that concept inward. His recognition that the work is never done is a message for all of us. Steven comments that even when he’s saved the universe, there will be times where he won’t be living in a “happily ever after” world.

It’s powerful metaphor from Rebecca Sugar, who wants us to understand that there will always be obstacles and challenges, and sometimes there will be setbacks. But like the Crystal Gems demonstrate in the movie, that’s when you lean on your friends, rebuild your confidence, focus on integrity, and change.

Now please enjoy this gratuitous Steg gif.

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Adam Zee
explains it all, even when no one wants to listen. You can voice your complaints or see Adam working out her issues via cardboard and cheap paint at @cardboardrealness. Honestly, she could use the engagement.