Gnomeo and Juliet brings Shakespeare to the back yard
The story of Romeo and Juliet has been told a zillion times, but it hasn’t been told using lawn ornaments or featuring a bevy of Elton John tunes. That’s where Gnomeo and Juliet comes in. Here, the star-crossed lovers are a couple of garden gnomes who come to life when no one is watching. They live in the adjacent yards of feuding English neighbors and their rivalry involves landscaping and lawnmowers.
James McAvoy voices Gnomeo, a blue gnome who’s mischievous, curious and a little cocky. Emily Blunt is Juliet, a member of the rival red gnome clan. She’s sheltered and innocent, but hates living her life like a delicate object on a pedestal in the garden, which, of course, is exactly what she is. One night, she sneaks out of the yard on a quest to get a beautiful orchid from the garden in the back of an abandoned house. Gnomeo is also in the garden and the two meet and fall instantly in love.
Just like in Shakespeare’s classic, the two discover that they’re on opposing sides of warring gnome gangs and things get all crazy. Dim-witted plastic frog Nanette (Ashley Jensen) look after the rebellious Juliet, sympathizing with her, but warning her about blue gnomes. Juliet’s father (Michael Caine) tries to set her up with nerdy gnome Paris (the ever-amazing Stephen Merchant) to distract her. At the same time, Gnomeo continues his rivalry with Tybalt (Jason Statham), battling him in races down the alley on lawnmowers. Eventually Tybalt is killed–well, not really, because this is a kids movie–and Gnomeo inadvertently ignites a war between the blues and the reds.
Unlike the real Romeo and Juliet, our two heroes don’t dramatically commit suicide at the end–like I said, it’s a kids movie– but instead they show everyone that blues and reds can coexist happily.
The story may be sweet and child-friendly, but there’s something about British accents and pop tunes that make this film more fun that basic kiddie fare. It’s more akin to Shrek than Tangled in that the jokes are faster and the performances less cartoon-ish.
Performances from Ozzy Osbourne, as a ceramic fawn, and Patrick Stewart, who has a cameo as the Bard himself, are more snappy than sappy and that makes the film more enjoyable. Of course, having a soundtrack busting at the seams with the music of Elton John, who is also the executive producer, certainly doesn’t hurt either.
As a major fan of Merchant, hearing him attempt to sing “Your Song” was one of my favorite moments. His voice is ideal for animation because it’s got character, but it’s not over-the-top. The story sees Paris and Nanette pair up, something that will delight fans of Extras, the HBO series that starred Merchant, Jensen and Ricky Gervais.
The two leads did well to not get too wild with the voices. Animated films require memorable voices that can add to the visual, but that don’t completely overshadow it. The toned-down dryness of British actors completely works for this.
Visually, the film is impressive with bright colors and flawless motion. Most impressive is the texturing. The scratches and rougher surfaces on some of the clay gnomes are ultra realistic, giving the animation a much richer feel. Combine that with 3D and you’ve got a visually beautiful film.
Gnomeo and Juliet isn’t your average Disney film and it isn’t your average forbidden love tragedy. It’s quicker than a regular kids flick and the actors don’t seem to fall into the usual cartoon voice performances, proving that most things really do sound better with a British accent.