Should I Watch..? 'Gnomeo & Juliet' (2011)
What's the big deal?
Gnomeo & Juliet is a computer-animated family romantic comedy film released in 2011 and is loosely based around the Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet, obviously. Featuring a soundtrack comprised mostly of songs by Elton John (who also acted as the film's executive producer), the film re-images Shakespeare's classic love-story set between two opposing sets of garden gnomes that come alive when their owners aren't looking. Despite a fairly mixed reaction from critics, the film was a success at the box office with global takings of around $194 million - easily out-performing Disney's much-bigger budgeted Mars Needs Moms that was released a month later. The film's success has led to a sequel being put into development, due for release in 2018.
What's it about?
The film is set in two gardens belonging to elderly neighbours Mrs Montague and Mr Capulet, who hate each other. Little do they know that when they are away, the gnomes in their gardens come alive and continue their long-running feud. The Montague garden is filled with gnomes with blue hats while the Capulet garden has red-hatted gnomes. During a heated lawnmower race between blue-hat Gnomeo and red-hat Tybalt, Gnomeo's prized vehicle is destroyed after Tybalt cheats.
In order to get some payback, Gnomeo and his best friend Benny sneak into the Capulet garden in order to vandalise Tybalt's well but they accidentally trigger an alarm. Fleeing from the red-hats, they stumble into another garden when red-hat Juliet is seeking a rare flower. Falling hopelessly in love with each other, despite coming from opposite clans, can our star-crossed lovers find a way to bridge the divide or are they on a course with tragic consequences?
What's to like?
Anyone looking for a serious reinterpretation of The Bard's work should probably keep moving because this is aimed squarely at the under-10's. I commend Gnomeo & Juliet for bringing Shakespeare to the attention of younger viewers but in truth, the brilliance of the man's writing is kinda lost here. No matter - what is left behind is an entertaining and diverting animation that looks far better than one might have assumed. The gardens and characters are filled with life, energy and bright colours that make the movie look surprisingly good.
McAvoy does an excellent job of suppressing his natural Scottish accent while Blunt also does well as Juliet. The cast list has a veritable embarrassment of talent on it - in addition to the main cast, you have the likes of Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Julie Walters, Hulk Hogan (in a cameo) and even Ozzy Osbourne's dear provides the film with plenty of good-natured fun. If you're a fan of Elton then the film is ten times better - it sometimes feels as though he's trying to cram too much in, as though he wanted this to be a karaoke opera in a similar fashion to ABBA's Mamma Mia!.
- The film contains countless references to both the original play and other works by Shakespeare such as the As U Like It moving company, the house numbers (2B and Not 2B) for Montague and Capulet and a tube of superglue being used called The Taming Of The Glue.
- According to the small print in its commercial, some of the side effects of using the Terrafirminator include a dry mouth, heightened levels of testosterone, loss of hearing, voices telling you to burn things and loss of bowel control.
- The film is the first animated film from Touchstone Pictures since Tim Burton's dark fantasy musical The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993.
What's not to like?
Despite the impressive cast list, the vocal performances are actually pretty weak with the exception of Osbourne and the two leads. Not that they get much help from the script which is flooded with references and in-jokes that only adults would pick up on (a sure-fire sign of desperation from the army of writers who worked on this) and humour which only really works if you're the same mental age as the children the film is designed for. A proper family film should be one that the whole family can enjoy - if the adults aren't getting anything from a film, why bother going?
The other problem the film has is the competition. Compared to the likes of Pixar's output and especially at the time (they had released the billion-dollar Toy Story 3 the year before and the critically acclaimed Up the year before that), Gnomeo & Juliet looks low-budget and rather uninspired. Crucially, the majority of Pixar's output can be appreciated by adults and children whereas only younger viewers will take anything from this film. True, it might make adults dig out their old Elton John CDs but really, the film has a strange sense that it might have been better on DVD. That way, parents can leave their kids in front of the TV so they can get on with their lives undisturbed.
Should I watch it?
Unless you are under the age of 10, Gnomeo & Juliet will feel like a long slog through every Shakespeare reference you could imagine. Decent animation can't stop the film from being poorly performed and simply too unfunny for adults to enjoy. It's a decent stab at introducing children to the works of Shakespeare by retelling one of his most famous stories in a world full of sound and fury but in truth, the film is a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.
Great For: young children, gardeners, English teachers
Not So Great For: grown ups, the Royal Shakespeare Company, anyone who doesn't like Elton John's music
What else should I watch?
There have been many interpretations of Shakespeare's tragic love story, not to mention different approaches. There are those that retain the original setting and dialogue such as Franco Zeffirelli's celebrated 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet to those which dispense with both like West Side Story and Gnomeo & Juliet. One of the most successful was Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet which targeted the MTV generation and relocated the setting into a city like Miami divided by warring mobsters. Using pop songs to score the movie, the film broke the record as the highest earning Shakespeare adaptation with earnings of $144 million.
The reason I often mention Pixar when discussing CG animation is that, by and large, they are the current kings of the medium. Since beginning the feature-length CG genre in 1995 with the now-iconic Toy Story, they have consistently produced films that amuse and delight viewers young and old with films that are thought-provoking, imaginative and down-right good fun for all. Personal favourites of mine include Inside Out and WALL-E, both of which left me dumbfounded with joy.
Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Mark Burton, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Steve Hamilton Shaw & Kelly Asbury *
Release Date (UK)
11th February, 2011
Animation, Comedy, Family, Romance
© 2017 Benjamin Cox