Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)
February 10, 2011
written by: John R. Smith, Rob Sprackling, Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley, and Steve Hamilton Shaw (inspired by William Shakespeare)
produced by: Baker Bloodworth, David Furnish, & Steve Hamilton Shaw
directed by: Kelly Asbury
U.S. release date: February 11, 2011
If there was ever a doubt as to the genius of William Shakespeare, look no further. Well, actually just look above, at all those writers listed. Whoa. It took almost ten people to adapt an animated version of Romeo and Juliet, littered with a variety of garden ornaments, for the big screen. It took a little over ten years for “Gnomeo and Juliet” to even get a greenlight, passing through the hands of Walt Disney Studios and Miramax and then forgoing the claymation route before finally being distributed by Disney via Touchstone Pictures, to be produced by Starz Animation (responsible for Shane Acker’s “9”) and Elton John’s Rocket Pictures. Did you get all that? Well, all those hands touching the Bard’s classic forbidden love story paid off, because the result is a remarkably delightful computer-animated film for the whole family.
It is strange to admit considering the way the familiar story ends, but fear not parents, you won’t have to have a long talk with your youngling when the movie ends. If anything, you might have to explain what the “Crocodile Rock” is. That’s right, Elton John’s classic rock tunes play a major part in this entertaining romp, co-produced by John’s partner, David Furnish. There is a bizarre bit of undeniable fun to be had in this irreverent update that is as cheeky as it is cute.
The story takes place in the quaint over-decorated backyards of two British neighbors somewhere in the London burbs. On the right, is the red house inhabited by a man named Montague and on the left resides a lady by the name of Capulet who lives in a blue house. They live on, wait for it, Verona Drive, and they’ve been at war with each for ages. It’s a battle that has been adopted by a community of gnomes who live in their lawn with an assortment of lawn trinkets.
The red gnomes, led by Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), steer clear of the blue gnomes who look to Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith) to keep life in order. What could possible disrupt the separate lives of the red and blue, causing chaos for each clan? Why love at first sight, of course.
It’s hard to resist the beauty of well made ceramic with a dash of sass. That’s exactly what Gnomeo (James McAvoy) finds when he falls for Juliet (Emily Blunt), the daughter of Redbrick who’s broken loose of her short leash. Their love for adventure and zeal for life override their historic dispute and soon they are weaseling some time together wherever they can. Keeping their budding relationship a secret is their new friend Featherstone (Jim Cummings), a lonesome plastic pink flamingo. As if the troubles of forbidden love aren’t enough for them, they also have to contend with the neighborhood feud fueled by Tybalt (Jason Statham), the persistent bully instigator.
Right from the start, “Gnomeo” freely admits that there have been countless adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, and this is done in such a way that sets the tone for the infectious humor. Once that is established, director Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”) immerses the audience into a dense musical tour through the playful tiny world, where lawnmower drag-racing is reminiscent of those teen races from the 50’s.
You may think you’ve heard “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Rocket Man”, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Your Song”, and “Tiny Dancer”, a million too many times, (I know I was hesitant) but the way these timeless songs are integrated into the movie is quite clever. John is joined by known other than Lady Gaga for a new song, “Hello Hello”, which is catchy but ultimately forgettable when surrounded by these joyous tunes.
Working with composer James Newton Howard is to the benefit of both John’s songs and the flow of the story. When the familiar lyrics are (at times) removed from these songs, we’re left with gentle orchestral melodies that appropriately assist specific scenes and montages. It’s a well-handled approach that is quite magical and yet could have easily been overkill knowing how many movies we’ve heard these songs in.
Shakespeare’s work has been around long enough to be satirized, mocked, and homaged ad nauseam. The creators of this film know it and have fun with it. And I welcome it. Why not? It may even get children interested in the source material at some point down the road and quite possibly his other works. It’s been done before, look at “The Lion King”. Although this is a hilarious musical comedy, with lowbrow humor, the dramatic stakes are there at every turn. After all, these constantly in motion fragile characters aren’t shatter proof.
While the kids will be tickled by all the fun, there is enough here for the adults to get a kick out of. I was surprised to find such diverse voice talent, eagerly embracing their slapstick roles. Along with the main characters, it was fun to recognize the likes of Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan (I could stop right there), along with Patrick Stewart and Stephan Merchant. When all these stars are having this much fun, it’s kinda hard not to join in. As usual, some of the pop culture references tend to be a bit much, but they’re gone in a flash and we’re back to enjoying the titular duo.
McAvoy and Blunt are just right as they display solid chemistry and portray needed charisma. But, their spot-on comedic timing and their expressive emotional beats are accentuated by the marvelous animation. It was also fun to see Statham’s voice come out of a rotund antagonist, as nice change from all his brooding. Throughout the story, the animators never forget that these are ceramic creatures with chalky scuff marks or scratches that have bodies that clink against each other. The look of the film has a seamless organic and synthetic symbiosis, that bursts with clever creativity.
I saw this with my 4 year-old, who thoroughly enjoyed herself. You can’t say that for many films in theaters today. It’s been almost a week and we’re still going on about how funny it was. Those are great moments to experience together and sometimes, even when a movie isn’t all that original, the combination of new and old experienced by a variety of ages, feels just right.