Gnomeo and Juliet
Details: (PG), 84 mins, In Cinemas 17 February 2011, United States, English
Synopsis: Garden gnomes Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbours. But with plastic pink flamingos and lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness?
A cute but charmless rendition.
Everything about this digitally animated movie seems seen-before. When the best features for children quote, steal, borrow and mangle other movies, it’s done in a spirit of lively fun, like the filmmakers have broken into an attic of movie ideas. Like kids playing dress up, the filmmakers try on all sorts of silliness until it’s served its purpose and move on; they have to because the better entries begin with a good solid yarn. The Toy Story franchise had terrific characters and a great situation and combined it with that wonderful air of ‘anything can happen,’ a truly childlike sense of constant invention.
Gnomeo and Juliet seems like its emerged from a boardroom action plan, where the players sat down and precisely worked out the parts that would ultimately constitute an ‘entertainment machine’. I imagine it went something like this: Do we have the songs? Check – Old Elton John and Bernie Taupin tunes like ‘Your Song,’ ‘Crocodile Rock’ and ‘Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting’; Do we have a classic/mythic yarn to parody? Check – Romeo and Juliet; And do we have a non-threatening, preferably, domestic setting with characters that are kid-like? Check – garden gnomes. They’re cute, short, have big heads, tubby little bellies and adults are always dressing them in embarrassing ways… We’ll make them the heroes. The kids will understand.
Set in an English lower middle class neighbourhood, Shakespeare’s plot is reduced to a war between two families of garden gnomes – the Reds, that’s Juliet’s crowd, and the Blues, Gnomeo’s – who share a fence and a taste for mischief. Since they’re garden gnomes their weapons of choice are shed-tools, paint, retractable hoses, etc. Mowers feature prominently; here, they’re like race cars, with the gnomes competing in drags in neighbourhood back alleys. Sound fun? Unfortunately, the animators and director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) don’t give these beats in the story much comedy, or thrilling action.
There’s nothing worse than a comedian who isn’t funny, unless it’s a kid’s movie with a charm bypass. A big part of the problem is the screenplay. There are half a dozen writers credited and I suspect it’s because the story problems that come with adapting a tragic love story about sex and violence into an anodyne kids’ gag-fest are enormous. Case in point: Once the initial attraction between the two leads becomes established there’s not a lot for them to actually do. So, the movie gets caught up in sub-plots to disguise the fact that the only thing two gnomic love birds can do is hold hands (and play dress up in an intrusive mock MTV clip to Elton John’s risible 'Don’t Go Breaking My Heart').
The voicing is okay; Emily Blunt is the best as a mouthy Juliet, but James McAvoy can’t do much with the romantic lead, since his part consists of bold boasts, and sullen defiance.
At least the filmmakers had the wit to satirise their own problems; in one scene Gnomeo has a quick chat with Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart as his most jolly camp) about what the narrative may have in store for him, and Juliet. “That’s a terrible ending,” complains Gnomeo, after hearing the news they’re both supposed to end up, well, dead. Rest assured the ending here is very 21st century: cheap, predictable, and witless.
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