When Rebecca Sugar first pitched the story for Steven Universe The Movie, it was difficult to sell Cartoon Network on the conceived villain without having visuals to guide the vision. “I could say all day this is going to be interesting and funny, and describe the ways she was going to move and sound and be, but it’s so animation specific,” the showrunner explains to EW.
For fans, it’s equally hard to get a gauge on this mystery figure, given all the secrecy behind the story. But, by the time the movie premieres on TV this Monday, they too will come to learn what the network learned: she is both “interesting and funny.”
In EW’s exclusive clip from Steven Universe The Movie, this antagonist arrives at Beach City. It’s been two years since the events of season 5 and Steven is a bit older. (Can’t you tell by the fact that he has a neck now?!) Clearly, whoever this being is, she’s been looking for Steven. Now that’s she found him, her plot can be set into motion.
Everything in this feature-length entry to the Crystal Gems saga is, as Sugar puts it, just “more”: the animation is bolder, the songs are bops (after all, it is a musical), and the stakes are higher.
“One of the most difficult things about the movie is that it’s so character based and it’s such an emotional story for a musical because people need to be driven to the point where they need to sing about how they’re feeling,” Sugar explains. “So, it needed to be a very emotional story in order to work.”
The characters really set the tone for what Sugar needed in this next evolution for Steven Universe. The likes of Ruby (Charlyne Yi), Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and Garnet (Estelle) all come together from different backgrounds to form a cohesive unit, so the crew needed to, as well. Sugar recalls, “We had a huge writers day where we all went out to Topanga [California] and I pitched everything that I had slowly been coming up with while working on the show. So much of this is the team.” The results were the melding of “different types of music and different styles of animation and this tonal exploration of everything that Steven can be.”
Sugar keeps using “intense” to describe the experience of making a feature-length movie musical. “A lot of teeth cutting that hasn’t happened for a very long time,” she rephrases.
The movie wasn’t officially a go when Cartoon Network first approached her about the idea to make something like this, but she took the opportunity to explore what it could be on the show. Season 5 episode “Reunited,” featuring Zach Callison (the voice of Steven) singing “For Just One Day Let’s Only Think About (Love),” was one of those test subjects.
“At that point, we knew that we would at least attempt to do this movie,” she says. “It wasn’t necessarily picked up yet, but we were gearing up to do it… That sequence, specifically, was a big test to see if we could do a really ‘musical’ musical sequence and also bring in a lot of new musicians to do a lot of live music, which we had done a little bit before, but that was on a much bigger scale. We knew the movie would be an even bigger scale.”
“Change Your Mind,” the four-part season 5 finale (previewed in the video below), was another stepping stone, being that the crew never pulled off a 44-minute-long entry before. “We just kept it going into [the movie],” Sugar adds.
With Steven Universe The Movie, Sugar wrote songs for the soundtrack, featuring collaborations with Chance The Rapper, Patti LuPone, Estelle, Uzo Aduba, Gallant, Aimee Mann, and many more. Looking back on what they achieved, the team is “happily exhausted.”
“I’m really excited for people to see this ’cause we just gave it everything we had,” Sugar says. “And, also, I learned so much while working on it. I really love it when a piece of art has captured the learning process that it took to make it, and the movie is really that.”