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Rapid Review: Gnomeo and Juliet

February 12, 2011
Watching light-hearted  interpretations of Romeo and Juliet always reminds me of those ridiculous people who play “Every Breath You Take” at weddings.  I have a feeling Will Shakespeare shifts restlessly in his grave every time we get a new, modernized version of this old yarn.  Usually, they tend to forget the original’s concept (not to mention the ending).   Thoughtfully, the creators of the film remember this, and from the opening prologue, there’s a refreshing wink-wink attitude about the tragic undertones of the predecessor’s plot.

The play by Shakespeare was a tragedy about two whiny teenagers torn apart by their equally whiny and stubborn parents.  If it were a Grimm’s fairy tale, its moral would state in all caps: “KIDS – DISOBEYING YOUR PARENTS WILL LEAD TO CERTAIN DOOM AND DEATH!”    The good news is that the writers of Gnomeo and Juliet have thoughtfully included a bronze statue of Willy S. himself that cheerfully chimes in now and then to let the giddy minions know exactly how the creator of these beloved characters feels about the goings on in the garden.

In this latest edition of the tale, our two rival families (still named Montague and Capulet in a nod to the original) are re-incarnated as snarky garden gnomes, those brightly tacky ornaments most often beloved by the AARP and “cat lady” sets.  It takes place in a British duplex where the elderly owners of each home combat each other in the usual neighborly ways (including a funny recurring gag about lawnmower one-upsmanship).   The two rival gnome and human groups are also color-coordinated so that even the most late-developing kids know who is on what side of the scuffle (Montagues are the blue garden gnomes, Capulets the red). 


"Two Households, both alike in their need for ridiculous lawn sculpture.."

The gnomes, in an oft-used plot device, are only “alive” when we dim-witted humans aren’t looking, so of course this leads to some amusing sequences.  This is all set to a soundtrack with classic and a few new tunes by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

The Montague family is led by Lady Blueberry (voiced by Dame Maggie Smith).  Her son Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is on forefront of today’s bullying trend, leading a wave of pranks and meaningless battles with the Capulet gnomes who inhabit the lawn next door.  Gnomeo has a bumbling sidekick (this is a requirement for all animated lead characters and plucky princesses) Benny, who helps him lead the zooming, energy-drink fueled action sequences involving anthropomorphized lawnmowers and a drooling, crazed bulldog.

Poor Gnomeo of course falls like a ton of bricks for the adorably pert Juliet (Emily Blunt), who is the sheltered daughter of the lead Capulet gnome,  Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), and much mayhem and misunderstanding ensues.

because "stealth" always translates to "dress like a ninja"...

The plot of Gnomeo and Juliet will be pretty familiar to both Shakespeare buffs and fans of animated films.  What saves it from being a forgettable placeholder until the next princess film is the combination of the witty dialogue and clever references to the original play.  These gnomes are not your average blundering oafs – some of the banter will have some younger kids scratching their heads and wondering what their parents are chuckling about. 

The action sequences are a bit derivative, but then again, it is tough to find an animated film nowadays that doesn’t employ the same cliches and Laurel and Hardy-style humor.  The voice acting is an utter delight, thanks to the stylings of almost every Brit scene-chewing stalwart who must have needed some easy work in a quiet studio.

The best character of the bunch is the forlorn but hopeful pink flamingo, Featherstone (voiced with a stereotypical latin-flavored accent by animation stalwart Jim Cummings), whose back story is similar to the beginning of the movie Up in that it will have you tearing up and sniffling despite yourself.

Overall, Gnomeo and Juliet is fun, fluffy and fantastic for kids.  It’s a nice way to spend a relaxing afternoon.

Overall Grade:  B

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