I Am Groot was a surprising addition to Marvel Studios’ line-up, but a welcome one. A series of five shorts, each of which was brought to life by breath-taking CGI artistry; the stories were low-stake and focused on the Guardians of the Galaxy member during his younger years, after the events of the first film.
The release of these shorts, which have very clearly been defined as separate entities on Disney+ rather than an ongoing show, has indicated that Marvel is willing to get a little riskier when it comes to the formats in which they tell their stories. There’s surely a place for short films within the context of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. What narrative opportunities could occur thanks to the addition of this platform, and are there any benefits to reviving these mini-movies?
The Original Marvel One-Shots
The One-Shot has lived within Marvel as a concept since the early days of the publishing company. The idea that a one-off comic could be released that might introduce a new character, or trial a new plot structure, was a low-risk way of seeing what worked and what didn’t. Plenty of famous faces made their debut in one-shots and the medium still lives on in Marvel today, although mostly to set up larger events rather than as a testing ground.
However, Marvel Studios took the concept and made it their own during the earlier phases of the MCU. The One-Shot became a common trope to expect from any DVD and Blu-Ray release. The Agent Carter show came off the back of the One-Shot of the same name, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. similarly span-off of Item 47, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, and The Consultant. Even the debut of the new Mandarin was teased in All Hail The King.
Plus, Marvel extended beyond the One-Shot to debut a set of mini-episodes focusing on a new character called Darryl, who had the unfortunate luck to have both Thor and the Grandmaster as his roommates. These shorts were even paid off with Thor: Love & Thunder, which marked Darryl’s debut on the big screen as an Asgardian Tour Guide. All this is to say, the One Shots clearly worked! Plenty of fun narratives have taken place because of those initial short films. There’s a real benefit to having the format available so that the universe can be expanded upon further, often in a comedic way.
Abandoning Short Form
Despite all those examples, Marvel Studios has moved far beyond the One-Shot format. Short form content in general is less and less common. Indeed, in recent memory, Peter’s To Do List was the only attempt to really revisit that idea. That’s because, more so than ever, Marvel has been focused on longer ways to adapt their comics.
The advent of Disney+ means that Marvel can focus on serialized content in a way they haven’t before. Sure, shows like Daredevil or Cloak and Dagger existed previously, but this is the first time Marvel Studios themselves have had the opportunity to create detailed series. When there’s all that space available to forge new worlds, it’s far easier to spin different ideas from a show, like a backdoor pilot, rather than crafting a whole new short that may go ignored.
The Disney+ Era
Disney+ has served as a massive chance for Marvel to grasp a hold of the television revolution that continues to grace the industry. But why can’t it also become an opportunity for the return of the short film? After all, shorts are pretty well-founded within Disney’s history. It wouldn’t take much for a house of mouse fan to find something new to watch that comes under the 5-minute mark.
The way that we as an audience consume our content also continues to shift. Speedy access to fun adventures featuring some of our favorite characters is surely going to appeal to plenty of people, and with so much to keep up with in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sometimes a debut of a hero or setting might be better confined to a short film. After all, there are so many things to watch. It feels like no one would complain about some easy-to-digest releases that compliment the movies and series that Marvel also produces.
The Inspiration Is Coming from inside the House
Marvel wouldn’t be the first studio working alongside Disney+ to try something different with the streaming service. In fact, it would be one of the last. Each of the other studios under the Disney umbrella has attempted something similar to great success.
Walt Disney Animation Studios have released shorts like Baymax!, and are focused on multiple stories through their Short Circuit initiative. Pixar has done something similar with both Dug Days and SparkShorts. Even Walt Disney’s live-action department has dipped their toe into those waters with projects like The Little Prince(ss) and Growing Fangs. On top of all of this, LucasFilm didn’t step away from the challenge, allowing mini-movies like the Rebels shorts and Forces of Destiny to really thrive. If anything, Marvel is slow to get going here.
TikTok and I Am Groot
That idea does extend to the social media age. Whether it’s flicking through Facebook or Twitter, it’s clear to see that Marvel content continues to dominate. On TikTok, short-form storytelling is key to the platform’s success. So many brands are trying to emulate that, so why can’t Marvel return to their old One-Shot idea in order to capitalize on the same thing? With so many new ways of adapting comics, there are interesting creative challenges rearing their heads that usually result in groundbreaking results. If Marvel forces themselves to change the way they develop once more, they might find something really unique is created from it that takes advantage of the kind of new techniques partially evolving with TikTok.
The success of I Am Groot is only going to strengthen the case that a revival of the short film could be occurring. On social media platforms, the young tree has fit right in! The character is instantly relatable, and clips from the shorts have begun to go viral. That’s definitely an indication that even though it’s a totally different way to tell the story, the audience is still paying attention.
There’s something really fresh about I Am Groot, too. A short film allows for the stakes to be far smaller. Not everything needs to be the end of the world. While Groot’s travels might be whimsical and a little silly, they also say something about his dysfunctional childhood and the type of family the Guardians really are. There’s a real heart to the piece, even in this unusual format.
A Key to New Narratives
So what are the benefits of telling stories in a short film? Well, the creatives involved can take larger risks without the need for those shorts to ever go anywhere. They are lower on the budget scale, and aren’t tied into sequels, spinoffs, and other TV shows that might want to continue the narrative. If a short film doesn’t work, everyone can move on. If it does, then it serves as a really simple way of jumping into this corner of the universe.
There are plenty of bizarre Marvel characters that might benefit from being tested in this way. Howard the Duck would surely work in a series of shorts, as would Hit-Monkey, who has yet to make his MCU debut. Then there’s the opportunity to dip into other genres. A true horror film hasn’t been released from Marvel yet. But a short film could see how audiences react to a narrative that focuses on the house of ideas’ most sinister characters. Short movies could even be a way to establish an upcoming group. A short for each member of the Thunderbolts would surely set up the movie by adding a little more depth to the roster ahead of its release.
The previously mentioned short film initiatives from Disney and Pixar, like SparkShorts and Short Circuit, don’t just serve as a way to tell new narratives that could have big screen potential. Indeed, just like Domee Shi’s Bao they may also serve as a testing of talent. After the success of that short release, focusing on the coming-of-age story of a young dumpling, Domee Shi was given the chance to direct and craft Turning Red.
Marvel Studios is always in need of new talent. Their animation department might be a slightly lower-stakes way of allowing directors and writers to play around with these characters, episode to episode, but a short film would be another great platform to do so. The studio will always need more minds that can take what happened on the page and imbue some of their own experiences into it. Playing with genres, styles, and structures, the future of the company would definitely benefit by allowing its creative superstars a chance to run with the ball.
Improving Theatrical Releases
If Disney and Marvel didn’t feel like the streaming service was a big enough platform for these short movies, then there’s always the chance that a theatrical release could serve the format better. Both Disney and Pixar have been known to air short movies in front of their major releases. It’s been a way of expanding the horizons of audiences, encouraging a love for the short form that has long been missing from cinema.
Marvel has thrived on creating new habits, like the tradition for audiences to now stay through the whole of the credits for an extra scene. Fans would enjoy something a little different at the top of each movie and that’s exactly where a short could sit. Each one might set the tone of the film, or go in a completely alternative direction to showcase the diversity and tonal differentiation that can be found from the comic book studio.
Signs of Change?
Are there actually any signs that things could change? Right now, Marvel appears to be pretty committed to their blossoming animation studio, and adding yet another division to proceedings might prove to be difficult. But Marvel are also known for their risks and of all the challenges they could take on, returning to the One-Shot shouldn’t be too taxing. I Am Groot is a great indicator of where things could go, and there are so many obvious benefits for both the company and audiences alike that it would seem like a missed opportunity not to try something different.