Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Kelly Asbury
Stars: voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt,Jim Cummings, Ashley Jensen, Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart.
Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of star-crossed lovers from feuding families is retold with garden gnomes. This cute but offbeat idea could easily have been a tacky misfire of epic proportions, but instead this animated film from Disney offers a surprisingly clever and thoroughly entertaining retelling of the classic tale. There have been many variations on the familiar story, from the musical West Side Story through to Baz Luhrmann’s contemporary take on the tale, through to Troma Studios typically shocking Tromeo And Juliet.
The film is set in Verona Drive in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and even opens with an amusing take on the play’s prologue. The Montagues and the Capulets are two rival neighbours, whose gardens are the showpieces of the neighbourhood. They both have lots of fancy sculptures and statuary in their beautifully maintained gardens, which are protected by the decorative gnomes, who also share a fierce rivalry. One tribe wears pointy red hats, the other pointy blue hats. Rather than knife fights in the village square, their rivalry here takes the form of destructive lawn mower races and the odd spot of creative vandalism. But when Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) spies the beautiful Juliet (Emily Blunt) it’s love at first sight. But because of their family’s feud, the two try to keep their romance a secret.
The sympathetic friar of Shakespeare’s tale is replaced by a cheeky pink flamingo with a strange Spanish-sounding accent (voiced by Jim Cummings, a regular voice over talent), who gets some of the best laughs, while the empathetic nurse becomes a romantic frog (voiced by Ashley Jensen). Seeing this is a film aimed at younger audiences, how do the producers handle the tragic ending that, in the play, served as an object lesson to the two families on the consequences of hatred.
The film for the most part follows the essential ingredients of Shakespeare’s tale, although the writers work in a number of lines from other plays as well. While younger audiences will relish the sight gags and the physical humour, older audiences will pick up on the clever pop cultural references that are interspersed throughout Shakespeare’s rich dialogue. Elton John and his partner David Furnish are amongst the executive producers, and the soundtrack is peppered with reworked versions of some of John’s early classics.
Eight writers are credited here, but the film is not the mess that one would expect with such a disparate group of creative minds. Gnomeo And Juliet has been nicely directed by former animator turned director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron, etc), who brings a bit of flair and imagination to the material. Asbury has assembled a stellar vocal cast of British thesps to flesh out the characters, with cameos from some unlikely people, including Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne and even Hulk Hogan, who voices an aggressive lawn mower known as the Terrafirminator. Michael Caine plays Juliet’s gruff father, while Maggie Smith is Gnomeo’s mother. Jason Statham provides the voice for Juliet’s angry cousin Tybalt, while Patrick Stewart brings authority to his brief appearance as Shakespeare himself.
The computer-generated animation is actually very good and detailed. However, this is yet another film unnecessarily retrofitted for 3D, and the process dulls some of the sharpness of its images and colours. The 3D effects add little to the movie overall.