This crossover episode could so very easily have been trash, but instead it’s one of the funniest episodes in the series thus far (and still with plenty of heart).
I’ll be honest: I know nothing of Uncle Grandpa outside of what’s shown in this episode, and I really don’t care to. It was written by regulars for Steven Universe who to the best of my (admittedly very limited) knowledge never had anything more to do with Uncle Grandpa, nor does there appear to be any other creative overlap between the two series. Basically, I give credit for the quality of this episode to the Steven Universe team and I see nothing inherently appealing in the world of Uncle Grandpa. It’s one of several Cartoon Network shows where I simply find the art design off-putting and what little I know of it doesn’t intrigue me enough to try to push past that instinctive distaste (this is also why I’ve never watched Adventure Time, for the record, and yes I know that Steven Universe probably wouldn’t exist without it, but I still can’t get past the art design).
Steven: Oh my gosh, it’s Uncle Grandpa! You’re really here, I can’t believe it! I mean, I literally can’t believe it. How is this even possible?
Uncle Grandpa: Don’t worry, bro. None of this is canon.
I’m usually not a fan of meta-humor, but this episode is just so shameless about it that, combined with the all the other insane surreal humor, it just works.
This is ostensibly about Uncle Grandpa helping Steven figure out how to summon his shield, and that’s honestly what keeps the episode grounded – there’s a point to all the shenanigans, even if (as usual) observant viewers probably reached the same conclusion long ago.
Uncle Grandpa: Yep, it’s the belly blues. Definitely seen this before.
Uncle Grandpa: I was there, don’t you remember?
I only actually watched one episode of this show on TV, and I’m pretty sure I saw this exact shot watching the first episode.
Uncle Grandpa: So your shield only comes out when you need to protect yourself.
Uncle Grandpa: Well, then, you just need something to protect yourself from!
There are so many great gags that I won’t even bother trying to include them all. But this episode also features Pearl at her most neurotic (and all the best goofy faces).
Pearl: Amethyst, have you seen Steven this morning?
Amethyst: Yep. He’s hanging out with some weirdo. I think he’s trying to vaporize Steven.
After blasting him with many cartoony weapons, Steven can still only produce his bubble. Also the Gems aren’t too happy that some weirdo keeps trying to blow up Steven.
Garnet: Gem hug!
Pearl: Obviously we’re dealing with some super powerful reality-warping entity.
Garnet: He could be a danger to the fabric of space itself!
Amethyst: I don’t know guys, I kinda like him.
Steven: Hey! What are you guys talking about?
Uncle Grandpa: Are you forming a secret club?
Uncle Grandpa: Can we join too?
Long story short, the Gems decide that Uncle Grandpa is dangerous and start attacking him.
Steven: I’m sorry! They’re usually not like this!
Uncle Grandpa: Quick! Bellypack, we need a plot hole.
And thus Steven is spirited away to Uncle Grandpa’s world. He’s pretty chill about it.
Pizza Steve: Come on, Uncle G. I only got two rules! No more than forty or fifty vans, and only one Steve allowed!
Anyhow, Uncle Grandpa just so happens to have a friend who knows all about the different magical inhabitants of the “multiverse” (read: Cartoon Network shows), hence he also knows exactly how Steven’s gem works.
Mr. Gus: Well that’s simple. Steven’s powers are maternal. Control of his gem is based on emotional clarity. His shield only comes out when he’s feeling extreme emotions of-
Of course he gets cut off before he can finish, because Steven needs to learn this stuff for himself. I’m not sure if I’d use the word “maternal” to describe Steven’s powers, but essentially what it means is that they’re protective and/or nurturing. His bubble comes out when he wants to defend himself, but his shield comes out when he feels a desire to protect others.
Meanwhile, the Crystal Gems are trapped in the backgroundless void.
Pizza Steve: Looking for me? Pizza Steven Universe?
Pearl: That’s not my baby!
Amethyst: Aw, nice!
Pizza Steve: Woah, hold on!
Pizza Steve: Don’t eat Pizza Steve!
Garnet: …okay, I’m ready for this episode to end.
Garnet: Steven! Get away from that man!
Pearl: He’s a monster!
I love how Amethyst is the only one who just takes the insanity in stride. But then they try to kill Uncle Grandpa again.
Pearl: Protecting him activated Steven’s powers?
Garnet: He must really care about this stranger.
Amethyst: I hope he didn’t care about that pizza…
Steven: Listen! It was a big weird surprise when Uncle Grandpa showed up here today. We’ve never met anyone like Uncle Grandpa! But you can’t just attack people you don’t understand. You have to stick up for them, and listen to what they have to say. You guys always do that for me.
Because a person’s a person, no matter how weird!
Then Uncle Grandpa floats off into the sky on his flying tiger with some last sage advice.
Uncle Grandpa: Remember, kids! Don’t be afraid to be super weird! Steven and I have got your back. See with eyes unclouded by hate, and always remember to say Good Morning!
So I have to comment on the Princess Mononoke reference, because they go out of their way to highlight the reference (the “eyes unclouded by hate” line is a direct quote of the English dub). First, the creators are very open about the fact that the animation/art design is heavily influenced by Studio Ghibli in general, probably even moreso than Disney. But now that they’ve called attention to it, there are actually a lot of similarities to Princess Mononoke, especially if you consider it as an environmentalist fable. Princess Mononoke is about an outsider who gets dragged into a conflict between nature (represented by the animalistic gods/spirits) and industry/human society. Ultimately, the aim is for the two to coexist peacefully. Steven himself is an outsider of sorts (not quite human, but not quite a Gem) who’s being dragged into the conflict over the Earth…and what’s kind of unique about Steven Universe is that it connects humanity itself with nature and conveniently has another species attempting to subdue the planet and exploit its resources! It’s neat to have that different perspective.
Until next time, keep it weird.