James Gunn made a triumphant return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe this week with The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Designed as an ode to classic Christmas shorts, Gunn crafted a sweet, heartfelt, and authentic new entry in the Guardians mythos with all the proper trappings to ring in the season. Among these delightful tropes, as unexpected as it may have been, was a series of flashbacks done with a familiar animation style. Rotoscoping, a type of animation made popular by notable filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, is a process in which scenes are filmed in live-action and then traced onto animation cells. The result is a cartoon with a uniquely real-world feel.
In a recent tweet, posted as a response to a fan on Twitter, director Gunn confirmed that the tribute to Bakshi was entirely intentional:
Bakshi is known for a variety of films, but his most popular might be 1978’s lesser-known The Lord of the Rings adaptation. He also directed 1977’s cult classic Wizards, 1981’s adult film American Pop, and has worked on several cartoons, including the classic 1960s Spider-Man series. Bakshi’s work is well-known in the animation community, and it’s great to see Gunn introduce the style to a broader audience. The short segments of the Holiday Special ultimately allowed for several key moments in the series’ lore to be revealed. And the look of the rotoscope made them appear more memorable than if a traditional type of animation had been used.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is now streaming on Disney+, and Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is scheduled to hit theaters on May 5th, 2023.