Trees. What are trees? Are they just stupid bits of wood? Or are they, in fact, wise and ancient beings that will outlive us all? Maybe they’re both. Or neither. Maybe we’re overthinking this. But with Guardians Of The Galaxy in cinemas this week, there’s no doubt the humble tree has a glamorous new face: that of Groot, the walking, talking plank, as voiced by Vin Diesel, the walking, talking… well, you get it. Anyway, here are the top movie trees. Because trees.
The video below requires flash I don’t use flash or like it so my appoligies for the missing image.
I also want to say that I have my own list of favorite tree movies and here they are:
After the death of her father, an 8-year-old girl becomes convinced that he is whispering to her through the leaves of the gargantuan tree that towers over her house (2010)
The Sea of Trees
A suicidal American befriends a Japanese man lost in a forest near Mt. Fuji and the two search for a way out. (2015)
Life returns to Ground Zero (2016)
But these are good too!
Actually, Groot isn’t a tree at all – he’s a sentient, tree-like creature from outer space who is actually the monarch of Planet X, and not just somewhere for dogs to wee up in the park. Capable of saying just three words – “I am Groot” – he’s not the most chatty of trees, but he puts more inflection into those three words than you might think. You see, Groot is actually super-intelligent and something of an expert in quasi-dimensional super-positional engineering – it’s just that Groot’s wooden larynx renders the subtleties of his speech void to human ears. Also, he’s quite nice to sit under when it’s sunny out.
He’s the big daddy in the Forest of Fangorn, the eldest of the Ents – and a hoot at parties. Or perhaps not: Treebeard speaks in a deliberately slow manner, is careful not to rush anything (motto: “Do not be hasty”) and almost bores Pippin and Merry to tears during their lengthy encounter. Despite the fact that he and his Ent brothers played their part in the eventual downfall of Saruman and the Orc armies, he sounds like the tree equivalent of the kind of person you get stuck behind walking through the London Underground.
This being a tree designed by Guillermo del Toro, you won’t be surprised to discover it’s not the kind of tree you gather your friends beneath to have tea parties. No, the tree in Pan’s Labyrinth is a twisted oak that’s home to all manner of disgusting bugs and insects, not to mention an over-amorous toad with a key to immortality in its belly. Rule of thumb: if you find any tree in the woods that you can climb inside or scurry beneath, or that contains a portal to a world of mystery, give it a miss. Other trees are available to play in.
Trees are idiots, for the most part – they just sit there sulking while you carve your initials into them and climb all over them. Not the Whomping Willow of Hogwarts – this perennial plant has attitude. Planted in 1971, it hides a secret passage between the school grounds and the Shrieking Shack, and if anyone tries to pass, it gets a bloody great branch thwipped to the face – legend has it one Hogwarts student almost lost an eye trying to touch its trunk. Tree justice. Nature fighting back? Maybe M Night Shyamalan was onto something with The Happening.
It’s one of the most horrendous images of the video nasty era: the demonically possessed branches of a tree invading the body of Ellen Sandweiss to the sounds of her screaming. That something as innocuous and mundane as your run-of-the-mill tree could be turned into such a devious device of horror is testament to the mischievous mind of filmmaker Sam Raimi – he could make a bowl of cereal seem evil given the right camera angles. As trees go, however, this one is definitely not suitable for picnics or late night rambles.
In what must qualify as the oddest cameo of Bill Murray’s career – yes, even stranger than Zombieland – the legendary funnyman plays second fiddle to Steve Carell‘s Agent Smart, pleading to spend one more minute in his company while suffering the indignity of lodging inside a tree costume. That you only see his face – his needy, desperate, smiling face – poking out of a knot-hole makes it all the more hilarious. “I get it. Who wants to talk to a guy in a tree?” laughs Murray. Carell doesn’t bother telling him what he already knows.
“Pocahontas… that tree is talking to me!” Face made of green bark and with hollow black eyes, old lady Willow looks like something Guillermo del Toro might sketch after a particularly bad cheese nightmare, but in the Disney universe, a tree with a face – and a song to sing! – is par for the course. Grandmother Willow tells Pocahontas to listen to her heart and sets her on her path, but we would not recommend asking real trees for advice unless you want to become known as a ‘colourful character’ in your local paper.
As far as I can make out, Terrence Malick wasn’t referring to, like, a literal tree in The Tree Of Life, man. He was talking about, like… all trees. Like, nature and junk. We are all trees in our own way, are we not? We lay down roots, we branch out, we shed our, er, leaves… umm… Oh hang on, it turns out there was an actual, literal tree in The Tree Of Life that Brad Pitt and his family have fun climbing in. Thank goodness. That’s the tree I’m talking about here. Forget all that other stuff. That’s one top tree!
There’s plenty nightmarish about The Wizard Of Oz, but the concept of talking trees who vocally object when you pluck their fruit as Dorothy does is quite distressing. Does this cause them physical pain? They certainly seem very put out. “How would you like someone to come along and pick something off of you?” one tree asks Dorothy. Do all trees secretly feel this way? When trees loses their leaves in Autumn, is that them going bald every year? How horrible. In any case, Scarecrow intervenes before it all gets a bit Evil Dead.
Parents today have enough on their mind without having to worry about demonic trees snatching children from their bedroom windows. It’s not an everyday occurrence, unless you live on a plot built over an Ancient Indian burial ground, but nonetheless the kids of the Freeling family had to fend off the twiggy advances of the spooky-ass tree in their back yard during an inter-dimensional disturbance. Would things have been different if the Freelings tended to the tree once in a while? Maybe swang gaily from its branches? Climbed it affectionately every so often? I can say with absolute certainty that the answer is yes. Trees have feelings too.