Saving More Than the Galaxy: 'Guardians' Director James Gunn Shares Grooti-ful Story

Marcus Errico
Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment

Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker James Gunn brought Facebook to tears this morning, sharing an emotional story of how the blockbuster Marvel superhero movie connected with some special kids.

Gunn posted a note on his Facebook page to mark the one-year anniversary of the film on Aug. 1. That resulted in a fan named Josh Dunlap remarking how Groot —the Vin Diesel-voiced sentient tree capable of only saying “I am Groot” — helped his young son, who suffers from the developmental disorder dyspraxia. Gunn was so touched by Dunlap’s note and highlighted it on his Facebook feed, writing, “I love making movies because of stories like this. Thank you.”

Dunlap’s message read:

“Hi James…This is in response to your recent post about Guardians being released a year ago and the effect it has had on my son. My son is four years old and has a condition known as dyspraxia, which not only interferes with motor skills but speech as well. When Guardians came out Sawyer could only say about three words and would communicate to his mother and I by other means. When he saw Groot, something clicked inside him and he connected with him on a level I haven’t seen. He began to mimic him and he would use the word “Bah” for a lot, but after he saw the film, he would change the tone in which he said it to convey a different meaning. He would also start saying Groot for many things as well. Since that, he was finally able to go to a speech class and it has helped amazingly. I just wanted to thank you though, for a script and movie that was written so well that a four year old, three at that time, could connect with someone who had the same language barrier.”

After Gunn’s reposted the message on Wednesday, Dunlap wrote back that he and his wife “are in complete shock,” adding they never expected Gunn to acknowledge the initial message. Gunn responded, “I have many friends who get a lot of negative messages online — I’m very grateful for the huge, vast majority of positive and kind people who follow me here, on Twitter, and Instagram. I get to hear stories like this, and then read all the amazing comments [b]elow. Truly wonderful.” (His “I have many friend who get a lot of negative messages” line might be a tacit reference to the social media backlash that caused Avengers director Joss Whedon to pull up stakes on his Twitter account earlier this year.)

That prompted another fan, Shannon Culler, to offer a moving anecdote of how Groot helped her autistic son:

“My son was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old and of course at the time we were devastated. Flash forward a few years to sitting side by side with him at the GoG premier here in Thailand and watching him connect with it. Absolute joy for both of us and yes there were tears. I never imagined him shouting from the backseat of our car to please play the soundtrack again and listening to him singing along to ‘Oooh child…’. You are magical James Gunn!”

She also attached an adorable photo of her child in costume.

Several others, including many who also have children with development disorders, have since chimed in. But the gratitude wasn’t limited to parents.

“This gift of a film came to me at a very difficult time in my life, as well, and it truly spoke to me,” wrote a fan named Jeff Gosselin. “You’re the man, James Gunn, and thank you to every single person involved in the making of this magnificent film. Most of all, all the best for that little man and his family. Indeed…WE ARE GROOOOOOOOOT!!!”