This week marked William Shakespeare’s birthday and were he alive today we would be trying to fit a whopping 450 candles on his cake. In that time we have seen numerous versions of his plays. We’ve seen furry Hamlets, white Othello’s and Macbeths on motorcycles but today I’m going to be talking about one of the more unusual ones, an animated version kids movie with a score by Elton John. I guess they figured it worked out quite well last time.
Gnomeo and Juliet transposes the classic love story to modern English life and centres around two gardens of gnomes, lovingly animated in cgi, who come to life when humans aren’t around. If this sounds a bit Disney Pixar to you then it should be noted that they held the rights to this movie until they were pretty much tossed out in 2007. I imagine the scene was similar to when you wake up after a night out and look through your amazon order list to find out you’ve just purchased a boat.
In this movie the Montagues and Capulets are merely the names of the literal houses with the gnomes themselves falling into simply red and blue in an effort to colour code for our convenience, no doubt they feared that we would get confused by the large cast on offer here despite there being only ten real characters in the movie and one of them is a deer and another a plastic flamingo.
The movie opens with the gnomes doing general gnomish things before we meet our hero who isn’t a love sick teenager fresh from a relationship but an active participant in the war against the reds. Likewise Juliet who we meet soon after is not just somebody Gnomeo bumps into at a party but a trapped young girl cut off from the outside world by her over protective father. As you can see we’ve already strayed off script here but I’m sure you will find many who praise this attempt at character development for the two. Granted this is pretty much the only character development we get and the chance meeting is now not only far more unlikely but far more obvious. Two teens meeting at a party and slipping upstairs, fine. Two gnomes actively at war but unable to a) recognise the enemy without the sight of their hat and b) bumping into each other in a completely unrelated garden nobody has been too in years, unlikely.
After dressing up as the tentacle from day of the tentacle Juliet dons a ninja disguise to go and steal a flower she has seen over the fence in an abandoned garden. Meanwhile Gnomeo fresh from Grease style races in the back alley finds himself there after a less then spectacular raid on the red garden. They meet and take part in one of the most lazy love scenes I’ve seen in an animated movie in quite some time before they figure out who each other is and return home.
It would be nice at this point to leave the rest of the plot up to you, after all everyone is more or less familiar with how Romeo and Juliet goes and yet that might be one of the biggest problems with the movie. The movie is too far from the plot of the play to appease anyone looking for a decent adaptation and too close for anyone looking for something new. The movie plays out as a tired rom com with the two falling out getting back together all the while throwing in as many Shakespeare references as they think the audience is likely to get. These start out alright with the 2B stuff on the letter boxes and some are quite clever such as taming of the glue for a superglue brand but many of the quotes come off as tired and leave you playing a mental bingo with yourself as you try and guess which ones they will use “may flights of angels…” check, “parting is such sweet sorrow” check “let slips the dogs of war” check.
The movie tries to get a bit too clever for its own good for my taste by invoking the play complete with a bald headed thesp playing the bald headed thesp and there is much talk of “improving” the ending which considering the end they come up with is saying something. It goes without saying that the original ending of the play is absent here but it does beg the question of if you were uncomfortable doing a story about tragedy why adapt it in the first place?
The level of humour on offer can be figured out by looking at the title of the movie, if you groaned at that pun prepare for a long slog for there are far worse to come. The rest of the humour vears all over the place with one or two good jokes hidden among many bad ones and yet this is far more effort than the music makes. If you don’t like Elton John you are in trouble for the score for this seems to be someone going through the back slip to a greatest hits of Elton c.d and assigning random tracks to recent cool singers. Oh sure an effort is made by changing a line here and there but for the most part it seems a chance to cash in on a stable back catalogue that everyone kind of likes. All these parts come together in a terrible ending that seems to be missing a final scene in favour of a dance off/ singalong. In fact several parts of this movie look like somebody had recently watched Shrek and thought hey we can do that too, the worst being a slow-mo spin, mid fight, parody of the matrix.
You’ve got Jason Statham as a garden gnome and Ozzy Osbourne as a fawn but neither are in it much or do anything of note to be honest though they help to highlight a problem with the casting. See if you read the list of actors signed up for this then you kind of want to get behind it, you will recognise at least half of them and feel warmly toward them for all they have done in the past. Yet as noted voice actor Billy West said, when you hire a big name actor for a voice over part all you get is said big name actor. Juliet’s dad is merely Michael Cane, everytime he talks you don’t hear her dad just Michael Cane and the same goes for the rest of the cast. Maybe this wouldn’t have been so off putting is there was a decent script to focus on but alas.
Gnomeo and Juliet might be colourful enough to keep very young kids occupied on a rainy afternoon but should be avoided by anyone else.