Gnomeo & Juliet

Posted on February 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm

What’s in a gnome?

Shakespeare’s tragic romance about the children of warring families has been adapted countless times (a high point: “West Side Story;” a low point: a recent Twitter version), as acknowledged in a cheeky opening monologue to this charming retelling set in the world of garden gnomes and set to the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Adjoining homes on Verona Drive have lovingly tended gardens, one with a blue color scheme, the other red. Both are populated with ceramic garden gnomes who come to life when humans are not around and like their owners, the two groups are in a bitter feud, led by Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith) and Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine).

When Lady Bluebury’s son Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) and his red rival Tybalt (voice of Jason Statham) compete in a lawnmower race, the hotheaded Tybalt cheats to win. Gnomeo decides to cross over into the red side for revenge.

Meanwhile, Lord Redbrick’s daughter Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) defies her father to disguise herself and cross over to the blue territory to capture a captivating flower. She meets Gnomeo and soon parting will be sweet sorrow and a weed by any other name is still a weed.

They have one perfect date far from home, where they befriend another garden fixture, a long-abandoned plastic pink flamingo (voice of Jim Cummings), and hear his story of the pain of lost love.

Gnomeo and Juliet want to be together, but they do not want to hurt their parents. Lord Redbrick wants Juliet to marry the suitable but dull Paris (voice of Stephen Merchant). Tensions become even more heated between the reds and the blues, especially when one side brings in a monster truck of a lawnmower called the Terrafirminator. Even William Shakespeare’s statue (voice of Patrick Stewart) tries to explain that the story is not supposed to have a happy ending.

But Shakespeare didn’t know about garden gnomes, 3D computer animation, or G ratings, all of which combine to make sure that all’s well that ends well.

The gnomes are nicely weathered-looking, with chips and cracks, and there’s an evocatively gentle ceramic clink when they move or touch each other.

There’s plenty of silly but warm-hearted humor as the characters struggle with the big feelings inside their brittle terra-cotta bodies. Juliet frees a little ceramic fish from a gnome’s fishing pole, and he manages quick grateful appreciation before he sinks straight to the bottom of the pond. The gnomes have to freeze whenever a human comes by, in positions only slightly more absurd than the ones they were originally designed for.

Pop culture references, unavoidable these days in an animated film, are oddly chosen (The “Tiki Room” theme song? “Brokeback Mountain?” Really?) but thankfully brief. And there is much to delight lovers of English literature, with sly references to the bard. We see like a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern moving van and the street address numbers are 2B and not 2B.

The eclectic voice cast works very well. McAvoy and Blunt show all the tenderness, courage, and spirit one could hope for in the young lovers. It is disarming to see how well Ozzie Osborne’s Fawn and Hulk Hogan’s Terrraforminator announcer share the screen with Dame Maggie and Sir Michael.

But what makes the film most endearing is its unabashed eccentricity. These days, so much entertainment is focus-grouped into safe institutional blandness. It is a rare pleasure to see a film, especially one with eight credited authors including William Shakespeare, with such a singularly loopy sensibility. If you are in the mood for an off-beat take on a classic love story to the sound of the Rocket Man, you will find this one is just as you like it.

Parents should know that there is some mild peril with apparent shattering of some characters, though by the final credit sequence we see that everyone is back together. There is a brief glimpse of a ceramic figure wearing a thong, some mild schoolyard language, and a sad story about a couple breaking up and the impact on others.

Family discussion: Why couldn’t the red and blue gnomes get along with each other? What was the most important lesson Gnomeo and Juliet learned from Featherstone? Which decorations would you like to have in your garden?

If you like this, try: Middle schoolers and up will appreciate some of the many other versions of the story including the excellent films by Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann and the musical “West Side Story.”

Related Tags:


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13 Replies to “Gnomeo & Juliet”

  1. Why couldn’t the red and blue gnomes get along with each other?
    It’s a movie!!! It’s supose to be entertaining and it’s a cute bonito bello tres beau whatever language, its a cute and creative title!!
    Which decorations would you like to have in your garden?
    are you trying to funny? No no!
    because of your reviews my mom won’t let me see any movies
    You make all movies seem bad, so I’m just gonna sit infront my tv and watch the static!

  2. Hello, Theo! Entertainment is not supposed to turn off our brains; it is supposed to turn them on. Are you telling me you never talk about a movie after seeing it? I like to suggest questions for families to discuss after a movie, but it sounds like you are old enough to think up your own. And anyone who can’t think of anything better to do than sit in front of static and sulk probably should be spending less time with entertainment, not more.
    I welcome your comments any time, and I’d love to hear what you think about the movies you see.

  3. Nell, I have an almost 3 yr old boy and we haven’t taken him to a movie on the big screen yet. I’m looking forward to that experience! Would you say that this movie would be an ok one to start with? Thanks for your comments!

  4. So why is Elton John annoying as hell and his music seems less and less essential, and David Bowie still seems cool (despite doing many equally cheesy things in his career as Elton) and his music seems more and more essential?Am I just being a hipster douche bag and siding against Elton because his music is more popular and commercial?

  5. I don’t recommend feature films in the theater for anyone under 5, Ann, especially in 3D. I know it seems like a long time to wait, but until they are 5 or so it is hard for them to sit still that long and follow the story.

  6. The gnomes are adorable, and their voices are perfectly suited to their characters. It’s a touching, silly,sweet, tale that’s lively and engaging, a very nice show,and,fun for adults. But,I must say,it helped to be advised upfront that this story WILL have a happy ending. The battle scene in the garden captures so viscerally,so genuinely,the violence and destruction of war, it’s tough to watch. One doesn’t expect to see such an accurate presentation of the worst of human nature in a charming film about gnomes. If only cute hats worked as well on conflicts outside the garden!

  7. My 11 year old daughter went to see it with family last weekend. She came home and told me, “It was kind of cute but not very funny. I think that I may be getting too old for these kind of movies now”.
    Of course, that being said, she can’t wait to see Rango. Mainly because Johnny Depp is voicing the main character so in her mind, it must be funny.

  8. Thanks, Janine — she may have been too old for the slapstick and too young for the literary references and more subtle humor. I’m looking forward to Rango, too!

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