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Written and directed by James Gunn, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special begins as the Guardians wonder how they can help Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). As the Terran celebration known as ‘Christmas’ approaches, they notice that he’s hardly in the holiday spirit. In an effort to cheer him up, Drax and Mantis (Dave Bautista and Pom Clementieth) decide to give him the ultimate gift by bringing Quill his favourite ‘hero’: Kevin Bacon.
Fans looking for progression and character development here will likely end up disappointed as this adventure has very little to do with the larger franchise, despite claims otherwise. (However, it’s worth noting that two small bits of information are revealed that could play an important part in the upcoming Vol. 3.) Nevertheless, this is the type of entry that Disney+ is made for. Fueled by Christmas cheer, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is short, silly and an absolute party from start to finish.
Once again, Gunn’s signature style is also very much at work here. Featuring another hot soundtrack, Holiday Special plays right into fan’s expectations with its humour and heart. (Although, it’s also worth noting that the best song may be its initial ditty about how aliens just don’t understand the holiday.)
While he may be making the move over to DC in the future, Gunn clearly still enjoys playing with his Marvel toys. Having established and defined this group of ragtag misfits, Gunn has a love for these characters that remains evident. After two films and several other appearances (including a new Guardians ride that he directed at Walt Disney World), Gunn has ensured that we have a relationship with these characters and care about their well-being. After all, why else would we care if Peter Quill is sad on Christmas? It’s actually a tribute to Gunn’s work that fans have become so invested Quill’s trauma that from the loss of Gamora that this story would even be an interesting to fans of the MCU.
He has cared about them. So, we still care about them.
As a result, Holiday Special is a hilarious addition to the series that, while silly and non-sensical, still somehow becomes heartwarming by its finale. While all the Guardians are involved, this is truly a story anchored and led by Drax and Mantis. Somewhere along the line, these two characters have become the soul of the team and have delightful chemistry onscreen. In Holiday Special, the duo are unleashed and let their silliest impulses run wild while never losing the heart of the characters that has made them so beloved. (Although, one must also recognize the work here by Bacon who simply leans into the holiday spirit with an almost giddy performance.)
What’s interesting about a lot of modern holiday specials is the fact that they want to talk about Christmas without actually talking about Christmas. While Quill mourns the loss of the holiday from his home planet, we aren’t really left with much knowledge as to why. Instead, to borrow a line from NBC’s now-defunct series Community, the Guardians Holiday Special seems to suggest that ‘the meaning of Christmas is that there’s meeting in Christmas’. Christmas lights stun the eyes and giving gifts to the ones you love feels important. But the love of the holiday seems to stem from a love for the holiday itself.
However, one of the clearest emotional notes of the Special is its relationship to family. Having travelled far across the galaxy at a young age, they see that Quill feels like something is missing. As Kraglin remembers Quill’s holiday failings with Yondu, he and the Guardians believe that he has lost a piece of himself without his home. Because he’s been separated from his home world, Quill has experienced great loss in his life. Whether it’s his family or Gamora, the holidays have left him feeling lost without a family.
And therein lies the secret to the holidays within this story.
For the Guardians, to discover Christmas is to recognize the importance of being with family. While Quill may miss the decor of the holidays, what means the most to him is being with the ones that he loves. As such, this Holiday Special features no villain to be defeated (an MCU first, btw) or world to save. Instead, it simply wants to sit with holiday humour and remind fans to treasure the people around us. In doing so, the Specialrecognizes that, no matter what corner of the galaxy you’re in, it’s these people that make a home.
Although, getting Kevin Bacon as a Christmas gift doesn’t hurt either.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is available on Disney+ on Friday, November 25th, 2022.