The appeal of seeing the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet enacted by garden gnomes shouldn't be underrated. The premise of the new 3-D animated movie, Gnomeo and Juliet, carries it along on a gust of silly goodwill that lasts for at least the first half-hour of the 84-minute running time.
Set on the suburban street of Verona Drive in Stratford-upon-Avon, the story first introduces a couple of barely glimpsed humans, Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet, stocking their gardens with competitive gnome displays. Soon, sturdy blue-capped Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy, bravely playing yet another elfin role) meets with Juliet (Emily Blunt) the belle of the rival ceramic set.
Juliet's father, Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) watches over his daughter with the help of a militant lawn fawn (Ozzy Osbourne) and Juliet's truculent cousin, Tybalt (Jason Statham). They are all opposed to having their treasured little figurine hook up with a gnarly, middle-aged blue-head with a white chin-strap beard.
The movie is nothing if not anxious to please. There's a big, diverse, celebrity voice cast - Maggie Smith, Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton as well as Caine and Osbourne - and a bright visual style (animation was by the Canadian company Starz Animation). The gnome characters are accurate down to their frozen expressions and weathered complexions. The score features numerous hits from executive producer Elton John, along with some new numbers including a duet with Lady Gaga.
The misgivings begin as soon as we realize that the really important source material here isn't Shakespeare - though the Bard's statue makes a brief, welcome appearance (voiced by Patrick Stewart) - it's Shrek, with some Toy Story thrown in and borrowings from Over the Hedge. Director Kelly Asbury, who made Shrek 2, serves as one of 10 writers, (including Shakespeare, and original screenwriters Rob Sprackling and John Smith), who spin out this spoof with a too-familiar mixture of pop references, slapstick action and chirpy sidekicks.
Nanette (Ashley Jensen), is a plastic frog who serves as a replacement for the nurse character. A discarded pink lawn flamingo named Featherstone (Jim Cummings) serves the role of Friar Laurence. The play's best character, Mercutio, has been dropped. Instead, we get a monster lawnmower called the Terrafirminator (voiced by Hulk Hogan).
Given the size of the writing staff, it's no surprise the script feels like a committee job, overstocked with a high ratio of groan-to-grin quips, including a Brokeback Mountain reference and lines like: "Who's your Gnomey?"
Dragging the story forward into the Vin Diesel era, the duels have been exchanged for street races with roaring lawnmowers. It seems the writing squad took Shakespeare's line about the "traffic of our stage" too literally.
Gnomeo and Juliet 3-D
- Directed by Kelly Asbury
- Written by Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley, Steve Hamilton Shaw, based on the play by William Shakespeare
- Featuring the voices of James McAvoy and Emily Blunt
- Classification: G