“The story we are about to tell has been told before … a lot … and we’re going to tell it again … but different.”
No one watches a movie called Gnomeo and Juliet and expects anything original to project itself from the screen. Here, these preconceptions are indeed satisfied, but there are a few pleasant surprises along the way, other than the rosy-assed, Borat-styled mankini wearing gnome, but that’s a mere trifle for weary parents and their giggling offspring.
Of course, I watch a lot of kiddie flicks, most of which consider themselves far too clever for their own good. I find it refreshing when a children’s movie doesn’t pretend to be the latest and greatest franchise in the works while not really offering anything to families except for a lighter wallet. The rather unassuming Gnomeo and Juliet unapologetically pilfers the William Shakespeare play, but it does so with the help of nine screenwriters. Not a promising beginning, but these dubious origins sprout an unlikely charm.
Gnomeo and Juliet not only takes its basic story structure from William Shakespeare’s famed work but also directs a few obligatory nods to Toy Story, which is the source of most laughs when the gnomes automatically freeze when any humans enter stage left. Armed with Commando, American Beauty, and The Godfather references, the movie borrows only the necessary elements from the Shakespearean play, so this final product doesn’t aim to reinvent the original story. It toys with it and makes kid-friendly adjustments. As a result, the (SPOILER ALERT) the death of Tybalt (Jason Statham, gleefully cockneying up the scenery) arrives with no bloodshed and a crumbled pile of porcelain. Still, to its benefit, the scenes achieve slightly more violent levels and much more believability than the climactic fights of Twilight: Eclipse.
As far as plot goes, the movie presents the very familiar theme of two feuding households on Verona Drive in Stratford-on-Avon. We meet the red-hatted Capulets and the blue-hatted Montagues, both of which take their respective surnames from duplex halves [respectively owned by Miss Montague (Julie Walters) and Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson)]. Naturally and unbeknownst to the humans, the gnomes bide their time by striving to achieve the most superior garden. While on night detail, the star-crossed lovers themselves, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt), encounter each other in the midst of separate covert outings; they fall in love despite the knowledge that their love can never be revealed. You see, his doting mother, Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith), and her overprotective father, Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), would never approve of such an arrangement (Just think of the purple children!). So the doomed pair pair resolve to keep their love secret and find encouragement from Juliet’s frog minder, Nanette (Ashley Jensen), and a plastic flamingo called Featherstone (Jim Cummings), who pinch hits for the Friar (but seems a bit too Madagascar for one’s liking). However, Tybalt has other plans, as does the bumbling Paris (Stephen Merchant), but neither of them present a real challenge for true love. Awww.
Director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) keeps things rolling nicely with a brisk pace, a menagerie of characters. and several strange interludes from the likes of Dolly Gnome (Dolly Parton), Terrafirminator (Hulk Hogan), and a plastic Fawn (Ozzy Osbourne). An encounter with a Bill Shakespeare statue (Patrick Stewart) gently toys with the idea that the Bard didn’t dream up the source material all by himself. Visually speaking, the movie accurately captures the kitschiness of gnomes and other backyard flotsam and a colorful sense of realism aided by a very restrained sound design aspect, which provides for the gentlest of clink-clinks upon gnome-on-gnome contact. Unfortunately, the weakest point of Gnomeo and Juliet is also the most pervasive aspect — the music of executive producer Elton John, who even makes a gnomified cameo during one of his self-recycled classics. With that in mind, anyone on the fence about this movie should consider whether a feature-length dose of Elton is worth undertaking. If you’re like me, then the very presence of Elton John isn’t bothersome, but we’re talking overdose quantities with this movie, a shame because it’s an otherwise entertaining little kiddie flick. Ultimately, the spirit of the original play survives as much as it possibly can with the absence of a double suicide, so Gnomeo and Juliet is not a tragedy by any stretch. It will not only occupy the snowbound kiddies but also restore some giddiness within the parents as well.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.