Steven Universe – Kindergarten Kid Review
“With you and me teaming up, that thing won’t stand a chance!”
I’ve never been a particularly big fan of the classic chase cartoons, by which I mean Pepe Le Pew, Tom and Jerry, and most notably Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. I bring this up because Kindergarten Kid, the premiere episode of Steven Universe’s fourth season, is clearly a tribute to the classic Road Runner cartoons, and, as a result, many of the criticisms that I would levy against those classic cartoons could just as easily be applied to this episode. Fortunately, while Kindergarten Kid, much like the works it emulates, is a notably simplistic story, there is enough humor present to ensure that it is an enjoyable episode. On the other hand, it is an odd way to kick off the season, and might have made more sense as a simple comedy-relief episode once the season was properly underway.
The episode has a straightforward “Catch the Road Runner” approach with Steven and Peridot, specifically Peridot, taking over the role of Wile E. Coyote, and one of the corrupted Gems from the Beta Kindergarten serving as our Road Runner. With its red desert canyon environs, the Beta Kindergarten serves as an effective substitute for the four corners setting of the classic shorts. As a concept, this all comes together rather well. Peridot is impatient but insistent on proving her mental superiority, traits that are often applied the Coyote, and it does allow for some amusing slapstick humor and reactions from the cast. The format is simple and polished, but that simplicity is what proves to be problematic. While the physical comedy does provide a few chuckles, there isn’t much in terms of deeper content for the viewer to chew on. Furthermore, Kindergarten Kid is more effective when it strays from the bog standard silent cat-and-mouse narrative configuration. Steven’s comments to Peridot over the merits and failures of each of her plans serve to provide more laughs than the slapstick does, and the closest the episode comes to having a sense of character exploration occurs when Steven tries to get Peridot to appreciate someone else’s perspective.
The attempts to get Peridot to understand the outlook of the corrupted Gem are amusing, but even this slight hint at depth is undercut by the fact that it has been done before. Many of Peridot’s character building episodes from the second season involved her learning to appreciate the views of others, so this episode doesn’t feel like it is treading any particularly new ground from a character standpoint. One could argue the episode also provides a lesson on restraining one’s own arrogance and challenging preconceptions, but it feels a bit shallow. Still, as much as I might focus on its shortcomings as a narrative, Kindergarten Kid does succeed where it counts. At its core, the episode is a creative and funny homage to the Chuck Jones shorts, and, through an effective use of Steven Universe’s short run time, it avoids outstaying its welcome. It ensures that the cycle of devising a plan only to have it backfire doesn’t get repeated too many times, and this results in the jokes continuing to pay off up until the end. It seems strange that this is the tone that the creators chose to begin their fourth season with, but perhaps they figured if they were going to begin on a specific note it might as well be a note from a Merrie Melody.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I wish that Lapis was present throughout this episode. It seems to me that she would have provided the perfect level of wry observations to serve as the peanut gallery.
- Peridot briefly alludes to the fact that corruptions don’t occur on Homeworld. I’m curious as to why that is the case.
- It’s an eleven minute version of a Road Runner short. I’m out of observations.
Kindergarten Kid is a decent episode that serves as a love letter to classic Chuck Jones cartoons. However, despite its amusing qualities the episode makes for an odd start to the season, and it is constrained by the very format that it pays tribute to. It is good, but it isn't great.