Opening with a warning that the film’s story is one that has been told countless times before, animation Gnomeo and Juliet succeeds in supplying what it promises in its title; a gnome-packed re-envisioning of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. The age-old rivalry between Montagues and Capulets remains (here personified by the warring blue and red-hatted gnomes residing in the gardens of neighbouring grumpy oldies voiced by Richard Wilson and Julie Walters) and it’s not long before lawnmower races and general warring silliness ensues. Soon the play’s masquerade scene is echoed and Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) find themselves falling in love – only to realise each other’s true identity. Juliet is harangued by Nanette (here posing as a frog-shaped garden feature), who chants ‘your love is doomed, your love is dead’ much to the displeasure of Juliet.
Co-produced by Elton John’s other half David Furnish, Gnomeo and Juliet contains many a famous voice. Featuring Ozzy Osbourne’s dopey fawn (not quite reminiscent of his bat-chewing days), Michael Caine’s Lord Redbrick, Maggie Smith as Gnomeo’s widowed mother, Jason Statham’s dipsy Tybalt, and cameos from Patrick Stewart and Hulk Hogan, the film sometimes buckles under its star-studded role call. Some names seem to have been included for their prestige rather than their abilities, which means that sometimes the voicing isn’t quite as effortless as in some other animations, but the enjoyment the voices provide far outweighs this flaw.
Gnomeo and Juliet is littered with nods towards Shakespeare’s vast canon but sometimes his highly revered work jars slightly with the film’s light tone. Although it is handled well it doesn’t capture the depth of the sixteenth century piece (and, honestly, why should it?). This is counteracted by the bright and fun characteristics of each of the gnomes (even the spiteful ones) but you do find yourself beginning to wonder how the film will deal with the story’s suicidal finale – could a children’s film really cope with such pressure? Juliet and Gnomeo’s date preparation sequence is a little naff whilst the overall cheerfulness of the film can sometimes over-animate its material. Jim Cummings’s Featherstone, a rambunctious flamingo, adds light relief to the funness of the rest of the film and, with his sad back story, adds a layer that are otherwise missing.
The adaptation itself is rather Toy Story-esque, with the garden dwellers only coming to life when their respective owners are out or asleep. There are a few scary moments where it looks like the gnomes are about to be exposed (notably when buying the Terrafirminator, a beast of a lawnmower to end the rivalry for good) which adds thrill to the otherwise predictable story. Its occasional poetical flourishes again nod back to Shakespeare, with the man himself even making an appearance, commenting on the pros and cons of the story’s ending. The film’s soundtrack reads as an Elton John tribute, Elton himself supplying most of the music, including several reworded versions of his most famous songs.
Unfortunately most of the best bits of Gnomeo and Juliet were aired in its advertising campaign (including Gnomeo’s getting stuck in the fence) and viewers will find some of the laughs being spoilt by having seen key moments already. The film borrows extensively from cinema’s history, including the parachute scene from The Spy Who Loved Me and the naked scene from American Beauty whilst the garden mushroom is the film’s lassie figure. Such allegories aren’t handled as subtly as other animations and, although fun, sometimes stick out like a sore thumb. This, mixed with the film’s obligatory musical ending, makes for a predictable, but nonetheless enjoyable, watch.
Despite all the fun had by Gnomeo and Juliet, there’s the distinct feeling of something missing and part of the blame falls at Pixar’s feet for producing such high quality animations. Despite its downfalls, Gnomeo and Juliet is still an entertaining watch.
Best character: Flamingo
Best line: ‘Let’s go kick some grass’.
What we learnt Stephen Merchant looks and acts exactly the same when in gnome form.
Ewan McGreggor and Kate Winslet were once attached to the project.