Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 found its mascot early in Baby Groot. But like all things golden, this youth cannot last. Marvel already has its eyes on what’s next, and the toys tell us the future is no longer Baby Groot, but Teen Groot. They grow up so fast.
Groot, the team’s Vin Diesel-voiced, ass-kicking tree, exploded into splinters in the first film. In Vol. 2, he’s a pint-sized version of himself that has a lot in common with a cartoon puppy (as in, he’s clumsy, big-eyed, and looks best in tiny clothes). In a post-credits scene, he’s a tree-nager, complete with a sullen attitude and a voice that cracks when he delivers his signature line, “I am Groot.” It’s a good goof that feels sullied by the quick capitalization by toymakers, aka this Funko Pop figure. Teen Groot looks like how I feel about Teen Groot.
It was already easy to view Baby Groot as a clever marketing ploy designed to sell toys. (This is Disney we’re talking about.) However, director James Gunn previously addressed the cynical (yet fair!) read on the character. “I'm not an idiot,” Gunn said in a 2016 Facebook post. “I knew if Baby Groot worked, the world would want Baby Groot toys and figures and plushies.” Gunn said that he’d originally planned for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to take place several years after the first film and feature a fully grown Groot; in practice, it didn’t really work. “I thought there was a lot of development the group needed to go through as a group — and it would be a shame for the audience to miss it,” Gunn said.
Hence Baby Groot’s Baby Grootness.
People love Baby Groot. People also hate Baby Groot (a camp I hold a lifetime membership to). I’m very much of the opinion that punchlines about this character feel one-note and boring by the end of the film. How many times can Baby Groot retrieve the wrong item before it gets old? I guess that depends on your tolerance for “aw, look at this little idiot!” feelings.
Still, it’s hard to deny that his age played an important part in the film’s story. As a tiny twigure, he can fit into places regular-sized Guardians can’t; as a child-minded character, his life-or-death duties are a point of tension. Even Groot’s appearance is far more interesting as an indicator of time, as Gunn alluded to previously. Drastically aging Chris Pratt (outside of the inescapable march of time), for example, would be a radical move on a filmmaker’s part, a tonal shift that superhero films like Logan use to explore specific themes.
Groot exists as a gentler, vague kind of continuity. He allows the Guardians of the Galaxy to retain their relevance in Marvel’s overarching storyline. He also visually shows how much time has passed for the group and their dynamic. If Groot really is more than an adorable cash cow, let’s skip the marketing frenzy around his tumble into puberty.