It blew my mind when I first heard the news that much of the audience of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe was in their 20s. This came out when network higher-ups were planning on canceling the show. The real question is however, what attracts college-aged people to kids’ cartoons. One short answer: Children’s’ television is becoming much more complex than past generations and reflects that complexity from society.
Take Steven Universe. Superficially, nothing is much different from the rest of the cartoon line-up. The show was created by Adventure Time writer and composer Rebecca Sugar and Ian Jones-Quartey. The creators use Steven Universe, like all animators, as a medium to explain the world around them.
I started watching an episode, just to see the hype. The show seemed normal with colorful backgrounds and energetic characters. Then I watched another episode. And another.
Not long I realized that this isn’t like any other cartoon.
Steven Universe is a cartoon about a team of alien heroes, the crystal gems, and their youngest and newest member Steven. Steven’s mother was also a crystal gem, but died when Steven was born. So the Crystal gems raised Steven. Parental loss is just one of the issues Steven goes through and creator Sugar explores.
Recruited to help explore complicated issues is a highly talented voice cast. The Crystal gems are made up of a cast of Amethyst, Pearl, and Garnet. Amethyst is voiced by Michaela Dietz. Pearl is voiced by Deedee Mango Hall, formerly seen on Broadway shows like Wicked. Probably best known however is Garnet’s actor, English rapper, Estelle. The best tactic Sugar uses in gaining emotional connections with the issues she explores is using the voice actors as singers in the show.
The most important thing that Steven Universe explores is that there is no pure form of family. In today’s age, the nuclear family isn’t the only type of family. There needs to be media that reflects that. I haven’t seen characters that have such a strong connection as in Steven Universe, and as long as the show is airing, an example of the new normal is in good hands.