It goes without saying that Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 was the major hit of 2014. It made $774.2 million in box office and has already spawned a sequel. The merchandising has gone through the proverbial roof, and there are as many figures as there were quotable lines, but one figure has walked…or rather danced its way into the hearts of America. And amazingly, this version of the character was only onscreen for a few minutes. This character is the beloved Baby Groot.
From figurines to key chains to t-shirts to pins to tiny little pole climbers, Baby Groot has become the most beloved of all the characters featured in the film. There are officially licensed Baby Groot figures that dance, Baby Groot figures that don't, and even a few that have escaped their flowerpots. At several local pop culture shows in the past year, you could find Baby Groots made from clay, cut plastic canvas, and intricately folded paper. But why did this character take off so quickly beyond that of the wise cracking raccoon or even its adult counterpart? There may be a few factors at that point to the success of this character.
It cannot be denied; Baby Groot is just unabashedly adorable. From the minute he opens his eyes and stretches out his limbs, you can't help but immediately embrace the cute little guy. This is undoubtedly by design. The big eyes and soft, rounded features are not unlike that of a human baby and we, as humans, are predisposed to want to love and embrace babies, so how could we not fall in love with him?
Groot was undoubtedly a major and beloved part of the Guardians film and his sacrifice to save his team is only matched emotionally by the sobbing of Rocket as he cradles a few remnant twigs from Groot's body. It absolute tears out your heart! Seeing Groot not only yawn and embrace new life, but to dance lets us know that it is all good again.
The Guardians film was filled with incredible music from the late 1960s and '70s but The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" provided that fun and boisterous quality that gave the film its literal and emotionally happy ending. The heroes came together, fought the bad guy, survived through adversity, and now they are riding off into the sunset to a happy tune that not only has a beat, but you can dance to it. Discounting all the darkness we may now know about the family or Michael Jackson himself, this was a tune from a more innocent time.
For every intense action or emotional scene in the movie, there we an equal number of comedic moments and they were spread pretty evenly throughout the characters. But it is the unexpected that makes something comedy gold. No one expected Baby Groot to break into a dance, but when he froze the instant Drax looked in his direction and resumed when Drax looked away made the theatre I was in, and I’m sure theaters everywhere, erupt in raucous laughter. Remembering that moment always brings a smile to my face and I am sure it is a deciding factor in the popularity of Baby Groot.
Popularity is fleeting, and the hearts and minds of the general public are quick to move on to the next big, cool and/or cute thing, but for one special fleeting moment, we will always be able to say that a smiling twig in a small white flower pot ruled the pop culture world.