Toddler Groot is life.
Ever since I got home from seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I’ve been extolling the wonders of Toddler Groot. After all, from the very first scene, he entrances us with his carefree wiggling adorableness.
Toddler Groot is the soul of GotG Volume 2. Everything about this character from his opening scene through until his last scene non-credits in-movie scene positions him as a metaphor for the ongoing morality tale within the film.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
GotG 2 lacked subtlety to its morality tale. Banging our heads with the Thor-esque hammer of family, the story reminds viewers from the early scenes that no, these are not friends. Their bickering proves that they are truly family. Throughout the post-first weekend review hubbub, writers and fans looked at the moral of this story through various lenses. Nearly everyone agrees that Star Lord is not the hero of the movie, the family is. Some discussions discuss the role of fatherhood, some the overarching theme of family. Many of the articles discuss the role of the sisters. Of course, there’s also the discussion of the mentorship relationship between Yondu and Rocket.
Within these discussions, few position Toddler Groot as anything other than a a side note, a marketing ploy. Imagine, someone must have said, the toys we can make. The children will love him. Baby Groot was so popular that people wanted a whole movie of him. Let’s give the people what they want!
Except that upon reflection, Toddler Groot is an anthropomorphized allegorical tree of life.
In the opening scene, Toddler Groot’s dancing sets the humorous tone of the film. As he dances through the battle, each of the adults takes a turn acknowledging him in their own ways. Gamora stops shooting a gun and waves hello. Drax scolds him. In turn, each of them pay attention to him and attempt to protect him from himself while momentarily diverting their attention from the larger monster they face.
This is what parents do. Every day, whether we’re working from home or cooking dinner or just trying to pee in peace, our toddlers interrupt us. For every parent that ever had to interrupt a phone call to answer an insistent toddler, Gamora’s “hi” mid-battle is for you. For every adult who’s reminded a toddler that they’re going to get hurt, Drax’s response to Toddler Groot is for you.
The dancing Toddler Groot opens the morality tale of chosen family without us even realizing it. With Groot no longer a peer, the other members are forced into familial roles.
As the movie continues, Toddler Groot’s allegorical role becomes more imbedded in the movie. When the heroes split up, Rocket finds his outpost targeted by Ravagers. He attempts to protect them while Toddler Groot stays behind with Nebula. Groot’s frightened sadness mimics that of a toddler lost in a crowd. Upon getting captured, Rocket and Yondu enlist Groot to try to help them escape. Again, the humor distracts us from the underlying tale. As the Toddler Groot attempts to help the two prisoners, the gag continues with him bringing the adults more useless and unlikely objects. Parents connect with the frustration of asking a child to do an obvious thing ending with incorrectly unobvious outcomes.
Without their family, Rocket and Toddler Groot are adrift. Family is the glue that helps these two succeed. Family is not just about the emotional bonds that tie us together but about how we work together to achieve outcomes greater than we would alone. Teamwork and family are synonymous. Rocket struggles to care for Toddler Groot on his own. Like an older brother left alone to care for a younger sibling, Rocket flails because he is alone and inexperienced. Rocket, like all of us, realizes that it takes a village to raise a toddler, even if that village is basically just a bunch of misfit alien heroes.
The realization that families require teamwork makes Toddler Groot’s scene inside the living planet all the more powerful to the moral of the movie. Despite his immaturity, Groot becomes a needed member of the heroic family structure. Children do have roles within our families. For those of us who chose to or who could have them, we feel they complete our family units. Only when all the members of the team work together can they succeed. Yes, this means even the youngest of them.
In the final scenes, viewers watch as Toddler Groot passes from one hero to the next. This conveyer belt of love and protection is one last time where we see how Toddler Groot is the metaphorical thread weaving this family together. As each of them takes a turn with him, they stand separate yet bonded. His existence in this movie goes far beyond that of a comedically adorable marketing ploy.
The moral of GotG 2 may be family, but it goes much deeper than that. Looking at Toddler Groot as an allegorical character, we watch how his participation in the family makes the group whole. The adults remain his caretakers, but he fulfills his own role within the group. Children are often beings whom we discuss as needing our protection and guidance. As parents, we all too often forget that we need them, too. They can make us better people. In raising them, we also raise ourselves.
I often think back to my child’s toddler years. I had never taken the time to think about how people learn feelings. Mostly, I just assumed we knew what they were. However, we must teach toddlers the names for emotions so that they can recognize them. Learning to teach a child how to label emotions taught me how to recognize my own. Children are not simply accessories to our lives. They fulfill important roles, ones that we cannot fulfill for ourselves.
Toddler Groot, the anthropomorphic allegorical tree of life, reminds us of this. An alien tree represents this cycle of life and acts as a reminder that we are more than just parents caring for children. As a metaphor, Toddler Groot reminds the adults that kids are an integral part of the team we call “family.”
We are Groot.