By Jason Thai
Cartoon Networks hit show Steven Universe concluded it’s fifth and final season late spring this year and have now released a movie. Steven and crew after finally defeating the gems (high super powered alien beings that all are named by their gem type) decides to return back to Earth to live a much deserved time of peace. But, three years after the finale, a mysterious new gem by the name of Spinel challenges Steven and his planet, threatening to destroy his friends and everyone he loves. The story takes off as the movie reminds us of why so many viewers fell in love with the series in the first place. Touching on relationship topics (LGBTQ+), love, effects of abuse, loneliness, change, and has great musical scenes just like the show did.
Spinel, the villain in this movie, touches on abandonment. Left behind on a planet, Spinel has been waiting in the same place for 6000 years for Steven’s mother, Rose Quartz, to return. Believing that Rose was truly her friend and would return, she never did, and thus Spinel takes revenge on Steven and his friends. Spinel is the physical embodiment of “that friend you forgot about” as she represents the effects of abandonment and neglect. Throughout the film, as a result of her abandonment issues, she has extreme mood swings as she expresses moments of anger and happiness, then shame and guilt. The dependence of Rose on her self-worth has clearly given Spinel trust issues and paranoia and, even when Steven offers her his love and friendship, she doesn’t believe him. Arguing that he is lying just like his mother did, Spinel believes that she will just be used again and thrown away. These are all symptoms in people suffering from Rejection Sensitivity Disorder and Bipolar (some refer to it as bordlerline personality disorder), both disorders that are common in people who have suffered extreme abandonment. What’s more, her bipolarism really shows towards the end fight scene where Spinel is trying to kill Steven. In the middle of the fight, she breaks down in tears, stating “Why do I want to hurt you so bad?” then later “I just want to be your friend.”
Interestingly, Spinel is stylized in a way similar to how Mickey Mouse and old Disney cartoons were originally animated, featuring very zany and wacky movements while also appearing very loose. While everyone else has a more modern style of animation and movement (called “CalArts”), she has a forgotten and thrown away style, just like how she was treated by Rose. Her gem “Spinel” are also used as fake rubies, an inferior and lesser desired gem. As a result, Spinel has a hard time with her self-esteem and value, fully believing that she cannot change or improve and, that if she was of value, she wouldn’t have been abandoned in the first place. Steven realizes that, even though he has grown as a person through the ability to change and improve, he cannot make somebody change. All you can do for someone suffering is to be there and support them through their journey. The creator of Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar stated in an interview with TVLINE about the film that “I really want people to take away the idea that it’s OK to be a work in progress. You really want to feel better.”
By reminding me why I enjoyed the series so much in the first place, The Steven Universe Movie was a great way to end the series. Just like the tv show, the movie isn’t afraid to talk about issues that modern television doesn’t (or can’t) talk about it. Spinel is voiced by the very talented Off-Broadway and Broadway theatre singer; Sarah Stiles, who does a wonderful job in bringing the character to life, being super cheery, cartoony and emulating how women in old cartoons sounded. (She even includes the little accents that women in the mid to early 1900’s would sound.) She also does an amazing job in the singing portions of the film, showcasing her character Spinel’s anger and vengefulness. Another scene I particularly enjoyed was the scene where Ruby and Sapphire love for one another fuses again to form Garnet. Beautifully shot with the contrasting personalities of Ruby and Sapphire combining together their faults and strengths and forming the “perfect” Garnet; a physical representation of their love and how powerful it is.
Overall, The Steven Universe movie was a great film that touched on themes of abandonment, love, change, and mental health. Universe is a great way to conclude a series that wasn’t afraid to push the envelope and touch/reach people that never had a show speak to them in the same way that this show continues to do.