As I predicted, Gnomeo and Juliet turned out chokingly cute and cuddly despite the source material. This animated family film about two star-crossed lovers, who happen to be adorable garden gnomes, has some clever nods to Shakespeare and even some very grown-up movie references. However, as good as some of the elements are separately, as a whole the film felt like a shallow parody.
Two neighboring lawns sit prettily on Verona Drive. Nobody would think, peaking over the fences, that these immaculately kept lawns are full of feuding garden gnomes. When humans are looking, they’re just ceramic gnomes. But when no one’s watching, they come to life and spend their time improving their gardens and racing lawn mowers.
Gnomeo is a blue gnome. Juliet is a red gnome. The Red gnomes hate the Blue gnomes and vice versa as their gardens are in constant competition. In a fateful twist of events, Juliet comes down off her pedestal and sneaks out of the garden to pluck a rare flower and meets a disguised Gnomeo. Before you can say “a plague on both their houses,” they’ve fallen in love. But they can’t make a garden together until they end a feud that’s quickly growing dangerous.
James McAvoy and Emily Blunt voice Gnomeo and Juliet, and are just two in a long list of notable names. Voice talents include Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Ozzy Osbourne, Ashley Jensen and Patrick Stewart. And then there’s the music. The soundtrack is almost entirely new and classic Elton John tunes. For big fans, there’s also an Elton John gnome fantasy sequence…hmmm. In 3-D, every line and crack in the plaster gnomes and plastic lawn ornaments come to life. I still think gnomes are obnoxious and creepy, so seeing them up-close, alive, and in 3-D wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience.
With plenty of adorable gnomes, bright colors, catchy tunes and funny characters, Gnomeo and Juliet is sure to be a hit with the kiddos. In a valiant attempt to reach the adults, this film did have some clever nods to Shakespeare and the original tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. One scene had Gnomeo sitting on a talking statue of the Bard himself. The writers of the film also threw in plenty of popular culture references for the adults. Some surprising, as I recognized an inside joke alluding to a Brokeback Mountain quote and a play on a racy American Beauty scene. Despite these attempts, I have to say gnomes doing Shakespeare just didn’t work for me. This animated family film has plenty to keep the youngens intrigued, but adults may find it has too much pizzazz and too little substance. Also, the humor is geared at about a 3rd grade level.
So acting talent, music, and CGI quality aside, this movie felt lacking in anything substantive. I feel Touchstone and director/screenwriter Kelly Asbury made a valiant effort to “re-imagine” Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with garden gnomes, but failed. Just too much of a stretch. With a generous budget and plenty of acting talent, I feel the filmmakers could have really got creative with Shakespeare’s material. And Elton John plus the top-of-the-line CGI and animation could have been used for good instead of evil. It’s obviously the gnomes. It strikes me as too contrived; in an effort to think outside of the box and do something no one has ever conceived of doing before, they over-shot “clever and fresh” and strayed onto “contrived and ridiculous.”
Sophomoric humor and a lack of substance make Gnomeo and Juliet a rather forgettable flick.