*Warning: The following review may contain spoilers for I Am Groot*
Marvel Studios’ first animated series of short films, I Am Groot, is finally here and dares to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe through five bite-sized episodes. The shorts showcase some of Baby Groot’s (Vin Diesel) adventures in between the events of the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2, and the same film’s post-credit scene, as confirmed by producer Brad Winderbaum. Of course, one could debate its place (or relevance) in the MCU, but it doesn’t necessarily matter since the show is here, whether you like it or not. And as a mild distraction to make the waiting time between Ms. Marvel’s finale and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law feel shorter, it works but isn’t crucial for the future of the MCU.
The first short, Groot’s First Steps, is set after the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s the only short where its place in the timeline is before the events of Vol. 2 and has a pretty self-explanatory story, where Baby Groot, who is currently sitting in a cup, will make his first steps. One of the most impressive aspects of the series is its photorealistic animation, which honestly makes it feel like a live-action film. In this short, the confrontation between Groot and a non-moving tree is exciting. The camera moves in fun ways, consistently focusing on Groot stretching and squashing to get to the tree, as he feels he deserves more attention. As a bite-sized short, it’s an entirely harmless distraction but won’t make or break your appreciation of the character much.
It’s during the second short, The Little Guy, where I Am Groot finds its footing and becomes something a bit more fun. Writer/director Kirsten Lepore isn’t afraid of subverting expectations when making Baby Groot feel bigger when he discovers tiny aliens hidden under a rock. He believes he’s being playful, while the aliens see his actions as an attack. They then launch a strike against Groot, making him afraid. The contrast between [not-so] big and small comes to a surprising moment, where Groot, to help the aliens by giving them more leaves, accidentally steps on their nest and potentially kills them all. It’s the most unexpected moment of the entire short (and series as a whole) but brought something more attractive to the table instead of having Groot go on forgettable adventures like the first short presented. It understands that a short film needs to make an impact from the get-go and not waste time distracting audiences, which is why The Little Guy was my personal favorite of the five.
Groot’s Pursuit also builds upon what The Little Guy has set up: a relatively easy-to-follow premise gets sidelined halfway through for something way different than you’d expect, and the results are hilarious. Groot hears a noise amongst the quadrant and investigates it, revealing a shape-shifting alien who imitates Groot and challenges him to a…dance-off, of course! The dance–off part is the moment where the initial setup gets sidelined, and Lepore has fun crafting a shape-shifting alien who starts to criticize Groot’s dance moves, allowing the real baby tree to eject the alien off the ship. Yes, the shorts are brief, but they’re effective enough to entice audiences from beginning to end.
Even shorts with a less zany premise like Groot Takes a Bath manage to be fun because you never know what Groot will do next. He discovers a mud bath with magical powers—the mud makes him grow leaves out of him. He experiments with different styles, while a creature is irritated at his constant “I Am Groots!” and yelling. What does Groot do? He trims his hair and carries it around as a scarf. It’s moments like these where the show consistently surprises audiences and makes you want to rub your head in disbelief, never thinking that Baby Groot would do *that.* But that’s been the payoff for most of the shorts: he isn’t afraid of turning any situation into something extremely uncomfortable, which makes the show adopt a somewhat darkly funny tone.
Lepore pushes the darkly funny route to extreme heights with its last short, Magnum Opus, in which Groot blows up part of the Quadrant to draw the Guardians of the Galaxy. Why does he have to blow up the ship to complete his drawing? It isn’t explained, but Groot isn’t afraid to go to extreme lengths to get what he wants so he can finish his portrait. Bradley Cooper appears during the short’s latter half as Rocket. The two exchange a fun scene together, reminiscent of their chemistry in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. It’s a great way to end a briefly fun, albeit unnecessary, series of shorts inside the world of Baby Groot while traveling the galaxy with the Guardians.
Daniele Luppi’s score brings a tremendous energy to the show, consistently matching the shorts’ upbeat and carefree tone and Baby Groot’s personality. The score solidifies I Am Groot as an enjoyable time on Disney+, even if audiences may forget it amongst the MCU’s better titles. But as a palate cleanser from the dreadful Thor: Love and Thunder (which also co-starred the Guardians) and to get us ready for more adventures with our favorite Guardians in The Holiday Special and Vol.3, it’s completely harmless. Kids will enjoy Baby Groot’s antics, while adults will appreciate the dynamic animation and fun needle drops in the show’s later shorts. As the first MCU-related series of shorts, I Am Groot gets the job done in drawing brief but effective short films that [slightly] expand the world of the MCU. And I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these in the future, which very well may be the plan. And that sounds great.