Baby Groot is undeniably adorable, but the more exposure Guardians of the Galaxy fans have had to him the more alarming their realization has become: Baby Groot shares many traits with the Minions.
Minions are the tiny yellow creatures introduced in the first Despicable Me. Back in 2010, Minions were quick to divide moviegoers. Some became immediate fans of the gibberish-speaking, accident prone, generally happy beings while others became resentful of their unbearable language and childish antics. Baby Groot is the infant version of Groot, the sentient tree-like creature that sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie to save his fellow Guardians. He’ll be introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
Sound familiar? One of the reasons Baby Groot is adorable is because of similar reasons that many found the Minions cute. Baby Groot is tiny, a bit of a moron (as seen in trailers and TV spots), he only says three words and annoys those he’s close to. Most importantly, however, Baby Groot is an obvious marketing ploy for Disney and Marvel.
It’s a concerning realization — that something as good and pure as Baby Groot could be in the same category as Minions — but it’s worth an investigation.
They’re both comically small
People like small things. It’s why we’re obsessed with kittens, puppies, babies and hamsters eating tiny blocks of cheese. But unlike kittens, puppies, babies and hamsters eating tiny blocks of cheese, which are genuinely cute, the Minions and Baby Groot are just comically small.
Baby Groot is a tiny tree. He has skinny legs and leafy arms, but when that is juxtaposed to his abnormally large head and wide eyes, it’s the perfect recipe for comedic cuteness. Everything Baby Groot does is funny, but in an adorable way.
This is the same reason many people first fell for the Minions. Take the scene above from Despicable Me 2. After Gru, their boss, sets fire to the phone he’s trying to call his romantic interest on, a gang of Minions dressed in firefighting costumes break in and proceed put out the fire. Like any scene involving Minions, chaos ensues. The weird gibberish language is turned up tenfold and it doesn’t take long for the scene to become annoying.
Despite that, the reason it works is because of how funny the Minions appear. They’re blobs, and when put in firefighting costumes and given adult tasks, it becomes immediately funny. Throw in an obvious homage to the comedic stylings of the Three Stooges, and it’s easy to see why people — especially children — were so taken with them.
They’re played off as dumb
Baby Groot isn’t an idiot, and neither are the Minions, but that’s how both Disney and Universal want them to be seen. Again, it’s the Three Stooges formula. If they’re dumb, they’ll do dumb things. For the Minions, that means there’s a greater chance they’ll hurt each other or fall over one another in the process of trying to get somewhere. It’s slapstick comedy that works incredibly well in animation. Funny looking blobs getting into physical situations that end with someone going flying or getting hurt is all you need to get kids laughing.
Groot, on the other hand, is explicitly referred to as a moron by his friends. In the first trailer, Rocket Raccoon pleads with Baby Groot to understand that he’s not supposed to push a specific button. This fails multiple times. Rocket gets angrier and as Baby Groot uses different inflections of his name (the only thing he can say) to get his point across, he comes off as stupid or naive.
Baby Groot gets a little bit of a pass because we were introduced to his older self in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. We knew who his character was beforehand and we understand this is a version of the character who exists to move the story forward. It’s a little more forgivable, and cute, because of that.
A lack of language
One of the most apparent similarities between Baby Groot and the Minions is the lack of complexity in the their languages. The Minions speak gibberish while Baby Groot, much like older Groot, just says who he is. There are inflections in both languages — you can easily tell when they’re angry, sad, happy or concerned — but it isn’t a human language.
This can be appealing at first, and to be fair, is perfect for both films’ target audience: children. But it can also get very annoying, very quickly. It’s tough to say if this will happen with Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 mainly because the movie isn’t out yet and it’s unclear how much of a factor Groot’s speaking will be.
But as a litmus test for how annoying gibberish coming from a strange, tiny creature can be, it’s best to return to 2013 when Universal was promoting Despicable Me 2 and using the Minions singing as a way to do so. The 52-second video features nothing but Minions at their very worst, which makes it the perfect clip to test out just how much one hates Minions.
The obvious marketing angle
Despite some Guardians of the Galaxy fans calling out director James Gunn for including Baby Groot as nothing more than a marketing ploy, Gunn has repeatedly said that is not the case.
“For whatever reason, Groot just wasn't working,” Gunn wrote in a lengthy Facebook post in December. “It was then I came upon the idea of having Vol. 2 take place very shortly after the first film and for Groot to still be Baby Groot, with quite a lot to learn. Even though I had already long-ago decided on the other characters involved, this change opened up the whole movie for me and it suddenly all came together.”
Still, Gunn admitted that he knew Baby Groot would be a hit with most fans, making it a marketing expert’s dream when it came to creating merchandise to sell alongside the film.
“All that said, I'm not an idiot,” Gunn wrote. “I knew if Baby Groot worked, the world would want Baby Groot toys and figures and plushies. But that certainly didn't seem like a certainty when I was alone in my office conceiving of a story, and it most definitely was not the driving force of the decision.”
Like Gunn, Universal executives weren’t blind to the power Minions wielded over children. In July 2015, the studio began the biggest promotional push in its history, focusing the majority of its merchandising plan around its upcoming movie based on the tiny creatures, Minions. Minions, as the studio quickly learned, were a big hit with kids and people were willing to buy anything related to the yellow blobs. The Despicable Me and Minions franchise has grossed more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
So, yes, both Baby Groot and Minions are going to be used by Disney and Universal as a way to generate more income for the studios.
But does that mean Baby Groot will be as terrible as the Minions?
Again, it’s hard to tell without having seen the movie yet, but there are a couple of signs that point to “no.” Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 received an incredibly rare, perfect score from its test viewing, Baby Groot hasn’t led to much outcry among the Guardians of the Galaxy community and it seems like there’s a reason for the character to exist beyond being a marketing ploy.
A more detailed analysis will be available once Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 premieres on May 5, 2017.