Steven Universe is a lot of things—a low-key, slow show about an enthusiastic child growing up, an examination of an unconventional family, a densely packed homage to a ton of pop culture, from video games to anime, and a straightforward kids’ show about superheroes with mystical powers—so it’s unsurprising that sometimes things get a little messy, all packed in to 11 minute episodes. It’s not that it’s a problem for an animated show with such a short running time to hit so many tonal notes (obviously). But to pull off more than a few of those tones at once requires a lot of finesse, and Steven Universe is still experiencing some growing pains as it rounds the finish line of its first season. “Lion 2: The Movie” tries to be several of those distinct shows all at once, and while it’s still enjoyable, it also comes off a bit scattered. Mostly, “Lion 2” gives off the appearance of just a bunch of stuff happening, even in its short run time, without the thematic consistency and tightness of “Steven The Sword Fighter” or “Giant Woman.”
The beginning of the episode is quite promising: Steven and Connie are going to see a movie, Dogcopter 3 (based on the book, natch) on a maybe-date—it’s unclear what their relationship is like after “Bubble Buddies,” but they seem to have hung out at least a couple of times since. The show has enough experience playing with relatively small stakes that the trailer for the movie and Steven’s adorable planning (he brings along a ton of snacks because Connie’s parents won’t let her buy any at the theater) appear to set up an episode where the date just goes awry for normal reasons, without any magical interference. It helps that Connie gives us the core of the sort of emotional story Steven Universe thrives on—she feels inferior to Steven because of his kickass, magical life, while the most exciting thing she gets to do is play tennis. At this point, I was primed for some passive-aggressive fighting between Connie and Steven, culminating in Steven promising that he does, in fact, want to hang out with her.
But then Lion, who Steven has enlisted to bring them to the theater, runs across the ocean and creates a portal to an undersea cave that appears to belong to Rose Quartz. The cave appears to be some kind of armory—a Batcave of sorts (there’s even a giant penny!) where different items and weaponry are activated by touching different parts of Steven’s body. The show has already established as recently as “Steven The Sword Fighter” that the Gems’ whole bodies are extensions of their gems, so this mechanism makes sense, in addition to being adorable (I word I will probably use in every single one of these reviews). A lot of the armor is conventional but also time-period specific, suggesting a much longer history for Rose Quartz and hinting at a wealth of information about her. The cool stuff in the cave is, obviously, way less important than Dogcopter 3, but all of it is still relevant to Steven’s attempts to learn more about his mother, so hopefully he’ll come back soon to explore a bit.
We get an introduction to more elements of the series’ overall mythology (“one of those gem places”) here beyond Rose Quartz’s cave. Lion, in particular, has a bunch of magical powers we didn’t know about: In addition to walking on water and making portals, there’s a sword in his head because of course there is. But Steven really just wants to go to the movies, a desire I shared completely (the animation here is nice, but not nearly gorgeous enough to trump Steven on a date) but that was stymied by the emergence of a “robot shooty thing” that appears to be some sort of training device. Steven successfully uses his bubble (in a nice callback to his original meeting with Connie) to protect them, until it’s destroyed. Thankfully, Lion is capable of getting them out of the cave and taking them to the movies, finally. The awesome stuff Lion does here also makes me hopeful that the show will continue to flesh out his character and relationship to Rose Quartz, and possibly give him a cool voice actor at some point.
Steven and Connie fighting the robot outside the movie theater is by far the episode’s best sequence, because it manages to combine its two previous tones seamlessly. First, we get a resolution to the emotional story when Connie asks why Steven even hangs out with her when he’s super interesting and has “some sort of magical destiny.” This isn’t as set up as well as it could have been, especially since I’m sure the detour to the cave was strictly necessary as a way to elicit Connie’s outburst, but Grace Rolek’s voice acting is spot-on here, making up for the lack of character groundwork. And the resolution is just right—Dogcopter 3 is important to Steven, as is Connie. So the pair works together to defeat the robot in a nod to Connie’s tennis playing (and, I suspect, Zelda boss battles against Ganon) by using the sword to hit its own energy balls back at it.
As oddly shaggy as “Lion 2” feels on first viewing, it’s still capable of displaying its layers, and the care that clearly goes into each episode of the series. At the very least, it introduces some cool new elements to the show’s world that it can build on in future episodes. Besides Lion’s newly revealed powers, Connie and Steven’s chemistry is sweet—her down to earth problem-solving complementing Steven’s wild imagination and magic (remember how “sensible” she was writing “harpoon gun” to Onion back in “Bubble Buddies). And there are a lot of really interesting ideas waiting to be explored, from Amethyst’s preference for magic to movies to the specter of Connie’s overprotective parents, who will surely be introduced in season two. If this sort of overstuffed goodness is the closest Steven Universe gets to misfires, then it’s due for a long run of awesome.
- The other Gems aren’t in this one much, but Pearl’s reaction to seeing Connie in the Palace was just delightful, as was Amethyst turning into Dogcopter.
- When Connie asks Steven why he hangs out with her when he’s so interesting and magical, it should land in roughly the same way as Steven yelling at Lars about his mother, but it falls a bit flat.
- The use of the MGM logo with Lion at the end was cute. The Steven Universe team is very good at ending episodes.
- On that note, who would you guys want to voice Lion? Going to go with an easy one and say Clancy Brown, though I’m not sure how well he’d fit in the brightness of the show’s world.
- Welcome to (hopefully) regular coverage of Steven Universe! The “Steven The Sword Fighter” review did well enough that I get to write about the show for a four-week trial run. If you want it to be a permanent addition to TV Club, share these write-ups and tell your friends!