Premiering this weekend on Starz was this year’s animated offering, “Gnomeo & Juliet”, featuring the voices of Emily Blunt and James McAvoy.
Two neighboring yards, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s are both littered with Garden Gnomes. The small figurines come to life when no humans are present, and spar with each other over and around the fence which separates the two lawns. The Redbricks and Blueberries are sworn enemies, but Gnomeo, a blue, and Juliet, a red, meet and fall head over heels for each other.
Which leads the movie to explore the time honored question…
“What’s in a Gnome?”
The gnomes clink and chink as if actually made of clay. They have lawnmower drag races, and live amongst decorative water fixtures. They have lawn deer and flamingos as friends. They’re vulnerable to being “smashed”. The story is loosely framed around the classic Shakespeare play of (nearly) the same name. Gnomeo and Juliet fall for each other in spite of knowing their romance is doomed. They proceed with their relationship in secret, which creates difficulties. You’d think cribbing from classic literature would lend itself to quality, but somehow here, the story actually feels thin. In fact, the whole movie feels a bit insubstantial. I didn’t really find a lot of humor in it, and I felt the action sequences were subpar.
Prior to casting Blunt and McAvoy, Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet were attached. There are ten different writers given writing credits for this film, including, of course William Shakespeare. The film was the originally sold to Disney, but was kiboshed by John Lasseter after the Pixar acquisition. It was then picked up by Miramax Films… until the division closed. It was finally produced by Starz Animation and released by Touchstone Pictures. It was Touchstone’s first animated film since 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. Not exactly the definition of “Animation Powerhouse”.
Can you say “Troubled Production”?
The animation isn’t bad, per se, but in this day and age, where we’re treated to so many high quality CGI animated features annually, it’s nearly impossible not to unfavorably compare the appearance of the film to its contemporaries. It really doesn’t measure up. There are several moments where the typical level of detail seems absent. As if, say, the typical first-tier CGI animated movie goes through 5 rounds of animation and detailing, and this one only went through 4.
They didn’t scrimp on the celebrity voices though, in addition to Blunt and McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Dolly Parton all provide some audio. Statham and Osbourne were the highlights of the film for me, along with the commercial Hogan voices for the “Terrafirminator” lawn mower.
The movie utilizes the songs and music of Elton John, to the point where at times it comes across as “Elton John: The Animated Musical.” Probably because the movie was produced by Rocket Pictures, which was formed by Elton John and his civil partner, David Furnish, to make family-themed film and TV projects. At points, it was a bit annoying. I mean I like Sir Elton, but if I wanted to listen to him, I’d boot up iTunes.
It’s relatively obvious that the creative team had a cute idea for a title, and worked backwards from there. The major appeal the film held for me was if they’d stay true to “Romeo and Juliet” and have both the leads croak themselves at the end of the film. *SPOILER* (LOL) Nope.