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The promotion for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has made one thing clear about the second outing for James Gunn’s space superheroes: this time out, the cuteness factor has been upped considerably. As if a grouchy raccoon that sounds like Bradley Cooper wasn’t enough, now fans get to see talking tree Groot turned into a little shrub, with anime eyes and high-pitched voice to boot.
The new and improved Groot is just the latest example of a long-standing tradition in science fiction movies: In case of emergency, wheel out the adorable sidekick. After all, no matter how dangerous things might seem, if there’s an alien or robot that makes your heart melt somewhere in the frame, things can’t be all bad, can they? Here are the best of Baby Groot’s predecessors in the role of Cutest Distraction In A Sci-Fi Motion Picture.
Robby the Robot
Although Robby made his debut in 1956’s Forbidden Planet, his fame went far beyond that sci-fi take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, showing up in episodes of Lost in Space, The Addams Family, The Monkees, The Twilight Zone, Colombo and Mork and Mindy in subsequent decades. Not bad for a clockwork man who doesn’t even have a face.
2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL 9000 offers an almost existential conundrum: Can an artificial intelligence that doesn’t have a physical form and tries to kill the leading man count as a cute sidekick? It depends how you look at it. On the one hand, HAL is a pretty terrible sidekick, what with that whole wanting to kill the crew of his ship thing … but on the other, he only wanted to do it so he wouldn’t have to lie for them. Plus, who doesn’t think that his singing “Daisy Daisy” is adorable? When it comes to the sidekick hall of fame, that alone should allow him in.
Perhaps the most obvious cute sidekick in all of science fiction, Star Wars‘ R2-D2 sets the gold standard for what we expect from the adorable best friend genre: he’s tiny, unintelligible and surprisingly useful when it comes to getting out of a tough scrape. In fact, R2 is so on top of the cute sidekick game, he’s got a sidekick all of his own — but whether or not anyone would call C-3PO cute depends on their patience with anxiety-ridden know-it-alls. Now Return of the Jedi‘s Wicket, on the other hand …
After Star Wars made the world realize that robots that looked like trash cans could work, Disney wasted no time in introducing Vincent to its bizarre sci-fi thriller The Black Hole, hoping against hope that the floating mechanical moppet would distract the audience from a cast that included Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine and a plot that ended with Maximilian Schell trapped inside a robot body in what was probably hell. Even with voice work from Planet of the Apes‘ Roddy McDowall, he was doomed to failure.
In terms of color scheme and word count, Steven Spielberg’s 1982 extra-terrestrial is a forerunner for Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Groot. He also managed to make ugly seem cute, proving once and for all that a love of Reese’s Pieces and massive eyes can overcome any amount of wrinkles or incomprehensible motivation. In a world that can seem disorienting and overwhelming, there’s a lot to be said for the allure of an alien friend who promises to be right here when it counts.
Sure, plenty of people would argue that ED-209 is the antithesis of cute, being a robot literally designed for use in war zones both abroad and at home, but just look at him! Those gun-arms are just waiting to be allowed to give you a hug. You can tell just by looking at him! Sadly, his simple homicidal nature also meant that he wasn’t the best sidekick to RoboCop, given that he actually spent the movie trying to kill the hero. Maybe we should just move on, really.
Mesa knows that plenty of people hate the sidekick from the Star Wars prequels, but if you can overlook the offensive patois — Ahmed Best certainly tried to — then there’s almost something charming about this particular incarnation of the bumbling idiot with the heart of gold. He’s goofy, enthusiastic and, thanks to his impassioned speech to the Senate in Attack of the Clones, responsible for the rise of the Empire and slaughter of the Jedi Order. If nothing else, that surely means you have to reconsider that opinion that he never amounted to anything.
Part-E.T., part-Gremlins, Stephen Chow’s 2008 movie featured an alien who almost seemed designed as an attempt to win the world’s cutest sidekick award. It’s not just a little fuzzball of lovableness, however; it also turns out to be able to give the most important gift of all after his new human best friend loses his dad in an accident. Pretty good for a character that looks like one of the aliens from Toy Story lost his razor.
Just as Earth has dogs, it turns out that the Mars of John Carter has its own version of man’s best friend — a former guard-dog of the Tharks of Barsoom turned an excitable, playful and endlessly loyal friend of Taylor Kitsch’s earthman-turned-intergalactic hero. When it comes to adorable sci-fi sidekicks, Woola has it all: the passion and courage of a great hero and the enthusiasm for life of a newborn puppy.
The next generation of Star Wars movies brings a next generation of cute sidekicks, with BB-8 rolling its way into our hearts as soon as it appeared onscreen. With a design so simple that even R2-D2 seemed overly complicated by comparison, BB-8 showed that all that was needed to win the hearts and minds of fans was a mix of cute beeps, a name that sounds like “baby,” and a blowtorch to threaten other good guys in case of emergency. The formula is surprisingly simple, if you think about it. Quick: someone give Groot a lighter, just in case.
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