GNOMEO & JULIET (2011)
Featuring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Jim Cummings, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Matt Lucas, Ozzy Osbourne, Dolly Parton and Hulk Hogan.
Screenplay by Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg and Andy Riley.
Directed by Kelly Asbury.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 84 minutes. Rated G.
Now this is high concept. A garden-gnome Capulet and Montague love story in which garden decorations declare their true love, tend kitschy lawns, race on power mowers and rock out to early Elton John tunes – all under the disapproving gaze of their feuding families. We have talking frogs and magic mushrooms and chatty plastic pink flamingos.
We even have a talking William Shakespeare statue in case you missed the connection to the play which served as this movie’s inspiration – though how could you with the punnily awful title?
Of course, making a kid’s version of Romeo & Juliet has its hazards. After all, most children’s films don’t climax with a double suicide – and probably for good reason.
So you’re going to take one of the classic pieces of world literature and have to defang it to make it palatable for family audiences. However, you have to wonder: is there really any reason to retell Romeo & Juliet without the tragic ending?
The answer that Gnomeo & Juliet gives the viewer is a shrugged maybe.
It’s cute and kind of funny in parts, but I doubt that the movie will ever become a favorite like many of the Disney films that preceded it. It’s a babysitter essentially; it will keep the kiddies happy and be mostly painless for the adults who can pick up on the references to the earlier text and chuckle appreciatively.
Then again, part of how you react to Gnomeo revolves around your interest in the movie’s kitschy universe. Personally, I found it a bit tough to get a huge emotional investment on the life of a bunch of characters who are cheesy garden art – even though there are some fine voice actors such as James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine and Dame Maggie Smith bringing them to life.
I recognize that the film was trying to give the plastic characters a romantically charming secret life out of view of the humans – much like the Toy Story films – but I find it hard to believe that many or even any people have the same fantasies of life for garden gnomes as they do for toys.
Perhaps it’s a British thing (this film has a very British sensibility), but I found the colorful plastic tackiness of the battling backyards – they literally had a planter made of an old toilet – sort of depressing. It’s just not a world for me.
Also, as an American critic trained to look for subtext, I kept wondering if the red gnome/blue gnome divide has a deeper political meaning, though on a guess I’d say in this British production that the answer is no.
Then again, as a single adult man, I am certainly not the target audience for this movie. For a younger, more suburban audience, I think that Gnomeo & Juliet will be charming enough to pass the time in a pleasant, if not overly stimulating, way.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 20, 2011.