After an over five-year hiatus since “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was released in theaters in 2017, the Guardians made their triumphant solo return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Nov. 25, when their holiday special dropped on Disney Plus. Directed by James Gunn, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” clocks in at around 45 minutes, focusing on Drax and Mantis as they kidnap actor Kevin Bacon to cheer up their friend and fellow Guardian of the Galaxy, Peter Quill.

The holiday special stars all of the usual Guardians characters minus Gamora, who died in “Avengers: Infinity War.” The special introduces Bacon as himself — fitting given Quill’s obsession with him in the first Guardians film — and Maria Bakalova as the voice of Cosmo the Spacedog. Alongside Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff, leading the special as Drax and Mantis, respectively, Chris Pratt returns as Quill, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, Vin Diesel as Groot, Karen Gillan as Nebula and Sean Gunn as Kraglin to round out the main Guardians team.

The special features are both live-action scenes as well as rotoscope animation, used to denote flashbacks to Quill’s childhood. These flashbacks occur at the beginning and end of the special, highlighting the relationship between Quill and Yondu, his boss and father figure who tragically sacrificed his life at the end of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” As opposed to traditional animation, rotoscope animation traces a live-action scene into what looks like a handmade drawing, giving these scenes a homely feel that captures the essence of Quill’s childhood with Yondu.

Likewise, the special, although rather brief, manages to beautifully capture the spirit of the holiday season with its visuals, characters, music and storyline. Unlike recent Marvel projects, which have struggled with tonal consistency, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” knows exactly what it wants to be and executes these themes well.

The visuals of the special are great and have a refreshing amount of practical effects. The aliens presented on the planet Knowhere look spectacular and incredibly real. Similarly, the set design is wonderfully effervescent, giving off a Christmas vibe. The weak spot of the visual effects is Groot, who finds himself in the uncanny valley of looking almost real but not quite right. Fortunately, Groot is barely in the special at all, but the scenes with him tend to take the viewer out of the film.

Despite the special being less than an hour long, Mantis has a satisfying character arc that pays off the emotional set-up of her character from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” In this special, she is established to be Quill’s half-sister, but she is too afraid to tell him. She continues that sentiment though much of the special, but still wants to give him a Christmas surprise by gifting him Bacon. However, by the end, she realizes that the holidays are about family, and reveals to Quill that they are in fact related. The two share an emotional moment, leaving the viewer feeling quite warm inside as they watch the family reconnect.

One of the highlights of the first two Guardians films was the music, as director Gunn picked out classic songs that added to the story and characters of the films. He manages to pull off another classic soundtrack with a small but impactful selection of Christmas songs that capture the bizarreness of the adventure that Drax and Mantis go on. “I Want an Alien for Christmas” by Fountains of Wayne might be the most fitting song utilized, as Bacon is literally an alien to Drax and Mantis that they are trying to give as a Christmas present.

The humor of the special is hit or miss, as the storyline itself is very funny but the individual jokes are lacking. While many of the scenes have humorous moments of irony that bring a smile to the audience’s face, there is a distinct lack of the laugh-out-loud scenes which the Guardians films perfected. Hopefully “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” set to release next year, manages to recapture the funniness that was missing from this special.

The biggest drawback of the holiday special is the impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Whereas films like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” felt like must-see Marvel projects due to their influence on the fictional universe, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” can easily be skipped and one would not have missed anything important.

On the whole, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is worthwhile to watch for fans of the Guardians due to its tonal consistency, heartwarming character and awesome soundtrack. However, it is by no means a must-see Marvel project, and can easily be skipped in rewatches of the whole franchise.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars