Gnomeo & Juliet – Review


A plague on both your gardens

Ever wonder what English professors do to unwind after a long week of lecturing about “The Bard” William Shakespeare? I’d imagine it could involve kicking back at a local pub – maybe even one called the Stratford-Upon-Avon – drinking pitcher after pitcher of ale while brainstorming ideas of how to make Shakespeare current. The topic is Romeo & Juliet. Minutes later the topic switches to favorite commercials and somebody brings up the Travelocity roaming gnome commercials. It takes another emptied pitcher before one of the English profs makes a funny by suggesting what if Romeo and Juliet were garden gnomes, would they be Gnomeo and Juliet?

What could have been a stupid, drunken joke is actually a new 3-D movie. William Shakespeare’s works have been inspiration for so many other works that it was only a matter of time before somebody came up with the idea of having the two star-crossed lovers be gnomes rather than people.

Gnomeo & Juliet is a weird 3-D animated spin on the Shakesperean tragedy set to the music of Elton John. ‘Cause nothing says tragedy like recycled Elton John songs. What’s next, Titanic: The Musical with Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” as description for Rose?

Juliet (voiced by Emily Blunt) wears a red hat and lives in a garden belonging to Mr. Capulet. Her forbidden lover, Gnomeo (James McAvoy), lives next door at the Montague residence. Supporting players like Paris (Stephen Merchant) and Tybalt (Jason Statham) make their presence known as the love story plays out. Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) presides over the Capulet yard. Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith) oversees the Montague garden dwellers. Instead of the Nurse, Juliet’s confidante is Nanette (Ashley Jensen), a garden frog. And for Gnomeo, Benny (short for Benvolio, I bet) is his best friend. Gnomeo’s watchful protector is an inaudible mushroom. If Gnomeo & Juliet makes enough money, the mushroom could get his own spin-off called The Taming of the ‘Shroom.

The film follows the same old boy meets girl story and then incorporates little tangents along the way. Knowing that this is G-rated material, be rest assured that this interpretation of the Shakespeare classic takes a detour with its ending. That’s not taking the cat out of the bag, but if you prefer tragic romances to happily ever after ones, you might want to avoid this.

Or you might just want to avoid it entirely because it doesn’t do enough to be a novel satire of Romeo & Juliet. Even the title is a dead giveaway. Why change Romeo’s name yet keep the name Juliet? What, because gnome rhymes with Rome – that’s reason enough to change his name and not hers?

Bear in mind that the title came at the expense of seven people who worked on the script. Yes, seven. Eight if you include “The Bard” as inspiration. Helmed by Shrek 2 co-director Kelly Asbury, the film’s sentimentality is vapid in an eye-rolling kind of way. And instead of dueling with swords, the warring gnomes duel with lawnmowers – because a spirited game of croquet between the Blues and the Reds just won’t do.

Gnomeo & Juliet does have flashes of imagination – Hulk Hogan as the VO announcer for a mega-duty lawnmower called the Terrafirmator was nice – but the film overall feels like it was made from spare parts. In the original story a Franciscan friar was an aid to both Romeo and Juliet. Instead of a Franciscan we get a talking plastic flamingo with a Latin flair about him. Maybe he grew up in the same neighborhood as Puss in Boots.

Story-telling aside, the addition of Elton John songs didn’t help matters. But because John’s civil partner, David Furnish, was one of the producers on the project we’re left with Romeo & Juliet meets Across the Universe. So in this case it’s Across the Garden. To hear “Your Song” reduced to lyrics about Miracle Gro and things being a “little bit runny”, it’s almost fitting that an outdoor toilet exists in Ms. Montague’s garden.

Director: Kelly Asbury
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan, Patrick Stewart
Writer(s): Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley, and Steve Hamilton Shaw; Inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”

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