Transforming animated characters into living, breathing live-action variations is all the rage. Fan artists have dedicated themselves to creating wrinkly models of every cartoon character. Scooby-Doo, George of the Jungle, Paddington, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Popeye, courtesy of acclaimed director Robert Altman, all made the jump. For Disney, the conversion is a business model.
So it’s not a stretch to wonder if Steven Universe, the long-running Cartoon Network series which wrapped its run on Friday night with the conclusion of Steven Universe Future, could reincarnate into live-action sometime down the road. Would creator Rebecca Sugar ever entertain the notion?
“I’m always interested in learning new things, so I’d love to learn what that might mean in live action,” Sugar told Polygon via email, “but I love the fascinating history of animation, and the loaded visual language I get to work with.”
Sugar told Polygon that she has no plans to continue the story of Steven Universe, aside from the upcoming End of an Era artbook. But in musing on the possibility of a live-action Steven Universe story, the animator and storyteller touched on an aspect of the series that often goes overlooked. The series is known for tackling major emotional and behavioral concepts, and Steven Universe Future finale was no exception. But from the beginning, Sugar also set out to make a show about the paradigms and styles that have made cartooning such a diverse medium.
“A lot of elements of Steven Universe are meta-commentary on the kinds of cartoons they’re based on,” Sugar said. “Spinel [from Steven Universe: The Movie] is the most obvious: a cartoon that’s been trapped in time and not allowed to evolve. But the dynamic between the Crystal Gems and the Diamonds also has to do with modern Cartoon Network cartoons interacting with an ‘older’ generation of cartoons.” For Sugar, those range from the illustrative work of Winsor McCay and Nell Brinkley to the Golden Age Disney movies and 1970s-era anime.
Steven Universe’s online fanbase has entertained the live-action adaptation thought experiment since the show first premiered in 2013. One fortified fan wiki page imagines a movie directed Maleficent’s Robert Stromberg, starring Stranger Things’ Gaten Matarazzo as Steven, Chris Evans as Greg, Amy Adams as Rose, Rebel Wilson as Amethyst, Bella Thorne as Pearl, and Estelle as Garnet (because who else, really?). But for Sugar, any live-action treatment of Steven Universe would involve more than just plugging famous faces into the roles.
“If I were to approach these characters in live action, the whole thing would need to be conceptualized differently. I’d need to find ways to express ‘tradition’ and the ways it can be stifling and phony, vs. what feels ‘modern,’ liberated, and honest.”