Disney+ hasn’t just allowed Marvel to expand its interconnected universe—it’s afforded the studio an opportunity to both branch out into diverse genres and styles, such as the recent Ms. Marvel, which took a Disney Channel tween-sitcom approach to the MCU’s trademark formula, as well as to integrate animation into its fold. The latter is a natural move for a franchise based on comic books, and while What If? proved a more teen-oriented venture (as will be, presumably, the forthcoming Marvel Zombies and X-Men ’97), I Am Groot is unmistakably for the younger set. A handful of amusing shorts about the one-phrase-fits-all tree-tyke, it’s a lighthearted and comical collection that, set in the aftermath of the original 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film, concerns Groot’s slow and bumpy process of growing up.
Juvenile experiences are the name of I Am Groot’s (Aug. 10) game, beginning with a premiere installment in which Groot wanders through a forest, finds an intriguing puddle, sprays some bug goo into it (to turn it all purple-swirly), and takes a relaxing dip, replete with a bit of mud for the top of his head. Before he knows it, he’s sprouting foliage from every pore of his bark-covered body. This would be alarming if not for the fact that Groot is a kid with a wide-eyed sense of amazement and invention, and with scissors at the ready, he begins trimming his new external shrubbery into a variety of costumes. It’s dress-up of an out-of-this-world fashion, and though it’s interrupted and mocked by a nearby bird, it concludes with the hero facing unexpected disappointment and then triumphing via a cutesy twist—thereby establishing the proceedings’ sweet and simple template.
Vin Diesel once again handles vocal duties for I Am Groot’s protagonist, although since Groot is now a boy with a high-pitched voice, the star’s contribution seems altogether unnecessary; Diesel was hired expressly for his baritone, and altering it in post-production means that just about anyone could be tasked with this performance. Nonetheless, Diesel gives Groot a rambunctiousness that’s suitable for these vignettes, which are notable for their aesthetic sharpness. Using the same digital designs and effects that are featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the series boasts a handsome vibrancy and level of detail whether its action takes place in the darkness of an intergalactic ship cabin or in the bright sunshine of a distant planet. While Marvel’s VFX collaborations have recently come under fire, I Am Groot is lively and attractive, exhibiting a polish that adds to its endearing personality.
There aren’t many cameos sprinkled throughout this assortment of shorts, as the focus remains on Groot. Still, canny credit-watchers will note that Guardians of the Galaxy mastermind James Gunn lends his talents to one installment. More obvious is the participation of Bradley Cooper as Groot’s best friend Rocket Raccoon, who pops up at the end of one story to find Groot wreaking havoc in their ship, albeit with a sweetness that offsets his mischievousness. Whether constructing a bomb, reading while sitting on the toilet, engaging in an impromptu competitive dance-off, or doing some arts and crafts that result in a portrait of his makeshift clan, Groot is a child engaged in the types of activities, exploration and troublemaking that—in a different context—would be right at home in a Little Rascals or Looney Tunes episode.
There’s no world-building in I Am Groot, merely some clever gags in which Groot vacillates between curious and frustrated, irritable and excitable. To wit, one tale has him getting jealous when, while still in his pot aboard Yondu’s Eclector craft, his pampering via robot assistants is cut short by the arrival of a new bonsai tree. Groot’s ensuing, hostile efforts to take down this replacement invariably backfire, and as in the entire collection, writer/director Kirsten Lepore casts that friction as both absurd and a reflection of familiar pre-teen feelings. That’s also true of Groot’s encounter with a community of minuscule insectoid aliens, whom he views as adorable playthings but who regard him as a destructive titan that must be stopped at all costs. The clumsy, innocent heedlessness of youth is a topic to which everyone can relate, and I Am Groot successfully mines it for chuckles.
“The clumsy, innocent heedlessness of youth is a topic to which everyone can relate, and ‘I Am Groot’ successfully mines it for chuckles.”
I Am Groot’s brevity prevents it from growing stale, and yet given that each chapter runs only four minutes, a little extra time might have let it playfully elaborate upon its conceits. Even with the proceedings’ fleetness allowing for numerous ups and downs in each story, another minute or two would have further developed not only Groot’s boisterous and volatile attitude, but also supporting players who are relegated to being momentary blink-and-you-miss-them figures. Whether it’s a water creature with the power to mimic, or the aforementioned ant-sized extraterrestrials, there are characters here who’d benefit from additional fanciful embellishment.
Demanding more from I Am Groot, however, is to miss the primary point of this endeavor, which is to bestow the Guardians of the Galaxy member with a brief chance to shine in the spotlight, this after being relegated to the background for the past couple of years (in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, as well as this summer’s Thor: Love and Thunder). A cynical critic might note that the series is also a calculated attempt to bring preschool-age viewers into the Marvel fold. Then again, considering the uneven quality of Disney+’s MCU output to date, at least I Am Groot is a charming gateway vehicle for future fanboys.
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