“Who remembers Gnomeo & Juliet…?”. A casual question, uttered by a fellow film critic, as we waited in line at the Sherlock Gnomes (2018) Family Gala held at the newly refurbished Empire cinema in London’s Leicester Square. Well, I’ll admit it passed me by, the Bard’s classic tale of two ill-fated lovers from warring households – reimagined as a back-garden family adventure between bickering red and blue ornamental figurines. And Mankini, a garden gnome who’s all about tanning his bum cheeks. Oh, what would the Swan of Avon say? But it was memorable enough (cough, profitable more like it) for Sir Elton John and David Furnish’s Rocket Pictures to crack open the Apple contacts again and get the band back together for a silly, gag-laden, back-garden mashup, riffing from the literary works of detective Sherlock Homes.
The star-crossed lovers are back. Gnomeo (James McAvoy, doing an odd mockney accent) and Juliet (Emily Blunt, English as Wedgwood pottery), and a football team’s worth of British film legends and comedy actors – (Sir Micheal Caine, Dame Maggie Smith, Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, and many more) – voice the garish ornaments. It’s fair to say most of the cast do their comedy shtick without blinking, bouncing off each other with energy, even if it’s a little forced at times. And I must give a big shout out to the evergreen James Wong, playing a salt and pepper shaker, totally worth the admission price alone for me.
We catch up with the green-fingered couple, and their garden chums, as they find themselves relocated to a new and frankly impossibly-sized garden in the suburbs of central London. And it’s a total mess. Quickly, the cracks begin to appear in Gnomeo and Juliet’s relationship, prompting Gnomeo to steal a rare orchid to win back his beloved’s affections. And he royally cocks it up. And worse still, amid the chaos, a mysterious thief ransacks the back-garden and steals all of their terracotta mates.
The game is afoot, and rather conveniently Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) rock up at the scene of the crime – hot on the heels of the thief, who leaves a calling card initialed with an “M” and a cryptic clue at every daring back-garden robbery. After a bit of toing and froing, Gnomeo and Juliet join Homes and Watson on their crime fighting adventure, trotting across some of London’s most famous landmarks like the capital’s sewerage system, Chinatown tat shop, and Clapham Common.
In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would see a big screen team up between Bill Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yet, here we are… My snarky comments aside, director John Stevenson, sharing an Oscar nomination for the kinetic and cuddly Kung Fu Panda (2008), keeps the action moving at a clip, handling the tumbling set pieces with an assured craftsmanship, but perhaps lacking the playfulness of his earlier work. As for the writing duties, Ben Zazove takes over from the nine, yes nine, credited writers on Gnomeo’s last outing. A million or more jokes, pratfalls and double entendres are fired off over the film’s eighty one minute running time, often with mixed results…
If you think a garden gnome twerking in nothing more than a red mankini is the death knell of modern day cinema, I’d say chill, and stop taking life so seriously. For the most part, Sherlock Gnomes is mostly harmless and overly linear as Sherlock dashes from one clue to the next with little difficulty, apart from his own short sighted approach to inter-ornamental relationships – he’s a bit of an all-round dick. But along the way as you would expect the whole gang – (Sherlock, Watson, Gnomeo, Juliet) all learn the true value of teamwork and not taking loved ones for granted. Pretty much standard-fare for a family film, but sweetly done nonetheless.
“Is Sherlock Gnomes destined to be a classic…?” No, probably not. But that’s alright, not every family film is destined to be Toy Story (1995), setting up legendary after legendary sequel. Most find a comfortable home on the family flat-screen, when the British weather turns cold and grey, which is often. Kids will laugh at the colourful ornamental high jinks and bop along to Sir Elton’s back-catalogue of stonking hits, while their parents take a breather, check their iPhones and make a picnic-style lunch for their occupied rugrats.