Despite possessing an exceptional voice cast and a songbook from none other than Elton John, Touchstone's warmed over Gnomeo and Juliet
is a tired, bland and dreadfully non-adventurous animated feature assembled under the mantle of Rocket Pictures, the production company owned by John and his partner David Furnish.
There's a fantastic film trying to burst forth from Gnomeo and Juliet,
but the finished product is decidedly disappointing, an inconsistent and uneven re-imagining, obviously, of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" involving mismatched lovers Gnomeo (James McAvoy), a blue yard gnome, and Juliet (Emily Blunt), one of those dreadful red gnomes. They live next door to one another in the yards of, of course, the Capulet and Montague households, where the gnomes seemingly come to life regularly throughout the day and carry on what must have been an ages long war against one another for reasons that are never quite made clear.
Gnomeo lives under the watchful eye of his mother Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), whose grief remains intense over the loss of her husband and who is now an ultra-protective parent. Similarly, Juliet's father is Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), who prefers to keep Juliet under his thumb and, quite literally, up on her pedestal.
If the gimmick of having the story told through the lives of gnomes and other lawn ornaments sounds stupid, well, it is actually pretty stupid. In what at times feels like a cross between The Smurfs and the little creatures in Night at the Museum, Gnomeo and Juliet
takes the Dreamworks approach to animation by tossing virtually everything at the screen in hopes that something, anything might stick. Unfortunately, very little does.
If the male gnomes are representative, then Gnomeo and Juliet
may be the first mass-produced Anabaptist feature-length animated film given that all of the guys, especially the blue ones, look like they have the Amish beard so that it's not a huge surprise when the big sport amongst the gnomes happens to be lawnmower races. I kept expecting to see the young women churning butter and for a buggy to ride across the screen at some point.
The film's finest moments come courtesy of a pink flamingo named Featherstone (Jim Cummings), who is discovered in a locked shed in the back of a long abandoned house having been locked away for many years. As Featherstone shares the story of how he came to be locked away, Gnomeo and Juliet
experiences a few fleeting moments in the land of Pixar. Unfortunately, it is not to last as director Kelly Asbury and the team of eight writers (including Shakespeare, of course) avoids anything resembling originality by tossing in weak and ill-timed pop culture references from past and present ranging from Rebel Without a Cause to Big, Transformers, American Beauty
and a host of others that are likely to fly over the heads of most children.
Several tunes of Elton John are featured throughout the film, and while the tunes themselves are awesome their place within the context of the film feels muddled at best. Was the story wrapped around the tunes or were the tunes tossed into the film? Was the film itself simply an excuse for John to promote his older catalogue? It's hard to tell, but it all feels a bit pointless.
Speaking of pointless, what's up with the abysmal and irrelevant 3-D? While the action sequences occasionally do entertain, the whole point of 3-D animation is to be awestruck in the movie theatre and such awestruck moments never occur in the film. The first thought that popped into my head as the credits rolled was "What scene actually required 3-D animation?"
None. Save your money and see the film in 2-D.
At its very best, it's quite doubtful that Gnomeo and Juliet
could have been turned into anything resembling an Oscar contending film. It is,after all, being released in the wasteland known as January cinema. However, it remains stunning that some studio exec didn't watch the dailies somewhere along the way here and whisper to the crew "Um, what the hell are you doing?"
Gnomeo and Juliet
is saved from being a complete waste of time by its stellar vocal cast, including imaginative and inspired co-leads Emily Blunt and James McAvoy, along with the always delightful Maggie Smith, a Robin Williams rippin' Jim Cummings, Ashley Jensen as an infinitely entertaining frog and good ole' Hulk Hogan as a kick ass lawn mower called the TerraFirminator.
There's little doubt that Gnomeo and Juliet
will open fairly well given the complete absence of kid-friendly pics in theatres right now, however, this junior Smurf rip-off will only whet the appetites of kiddies for the real thing coming later this year. A decent film that could have been so much more, the star-crossed lovers in Gnomeo and Juliet
may survive this time around but, unfortunately, their film is dead on arrival.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic