Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

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A modern take on Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers has been done before (and with great success, by Mr Baz Luhrmann in particular) but it’s never really been portrayed with a cast full of animated gnomes. Or accompanied by a soundtrack of Elton John songs. There’s a good reason why it hasn’t been done in this way before, surely.

Anyway, there’s very little that I need to say about the plot because everyone will already know the basic concept. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a blue-hatted gnome who lives in a garden with other blue-hatted gnomes while Juliet (Emily Blunt) is a red-hatted gnome from the garden next door that’s full of other red-hatted gnomes. The reds and blues have been feuding for a long time and when Gnomeo and Juliet meet, while keeping their true colours hidden (literally, not metaphorically), and fall in love they soon realise that it’s going to cause a lot of trouble and that they may have to conduct their romance in utmost secrecy. But that looks less and less likely as the feud between the two gardens escalates, mainly thanks to the aggressive and pushy Tybalt (Jason Statham).

Gnomeo & Juliet is a fun and animated (in more ways than one) family movie that has enough little touches to please both the kids and the parents who may be dragged unwillingly to see it. The Brit-centric vocal cast is superb (alongside McAvoy, Blunt and Statham we get Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne and many others) and the visuals are always top notch. At first I did think that things were a little bit . . . . . . off . . . somehow. I quickly realised that I was actually noticing the detail that made the gnomes into very real characters while maintaining the texture and artificiality that the little garden ornaments always have. It’s all very well realised, from the skin tone that makes the skin look like some surface covered in paint (which it, of course, is) to the eyes that also have that painted look (because they are) to the . . . . . well, you get the picture.

So the voices are great and the visuals are top notch. What about the script, written by director Kelly Asbury and about half a dozen other people? Is there any way to give us another fresh spin on Shakespeare’s classic tale? It turns out that there is. I was most impressed, while sitting there in a cinema full of kids enjoying the brightly-coloured gnomes, by the brisk and relatively unpatronising way that the movie moved through the basic touchstones of the tragic tale. The script has a lot of little funny moments but also retains the essence of the tale but that’s just the first layer because eagle-eyed viewers will spot numerous references to Shakespeare’s works (As-U-Like-It removals, neighbours living at 2B and not 2B, there’s even room for an “out, out” followed by “damn Spot” which, in this instance, relates to a large neighbourhood dog but allows for a sneaky and enjoyable Macbeth reference) and we also get a post-modern take on the bard’s storytelling abilities thanks to the presence of a talking statue (voiced by Patrick Stewart) and the views that he passes on to our Gnomeo. Even the opening sequence, emulating a traditional introduction of the material in a very theatrical style, is a bit of a gem and sets the tone for the clever, playful wit to follow.

Last, but by no means least, we have to mention that soundtrack. I have never been a massive fan of Elton John but I’ve never hated him either and this movie utilises a few of his greatest hits to decent effect. The songs are inoffensive, catchy and surround the sun-kissed lawn shenanigans in a surprisingly effective way.

I didn’t LOVE Gnomeo & Juliet but I did actually really like it and I’d probably end up buying it for myself when it hits the home market, while pretending it was “for the kids”.

DIRECTOR: KELLY ASBURY
STARS: JAMES MCAVOY, EMILY BLUNT, ASHLEY JENSEN, MATT LUCAS, JASON STATHAM, MICHAEL CAINE
RUNTIME: 84 MINUTES APPROX
COUNTRY: UK/USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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