Garden gnomes Gnomeo (voice of McAvoy) and Juliet (voice of Blunt) have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness? Written by
Walt Disney Pictures
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When Featherstone starts to reflect on the memory of his mate, the female flamingo is on the left, however, when the moving van arrives to move the female, the female flamingo is on the right. See more »
No other writer lends himself to so many different film interpretations as William Shakespeare, whose plays have spawned musicals (West Side Story), teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You), even cartoons (though not credited as such, Hamlet is an obvious source of inspiration for The Lion King). The latter genre is used again for a peculiar take on Romeo and Juliet, put together with CGI under Disney's Touchstone banner.
The film takes place in the present day, where Montague and Capulet no longer are two warring families, but simply two next-door neighbors who just don't get along. This animosity is also found in their adjacent gardens, where the gnomes, much like the toys in Toy Story, come to life when no one's watching. The blue gnomes, led by Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), belong to Mrs. Montague, while Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) and his red acolytes belong to Mr. Capulet. Their mission is to find new ways to make the enemy garden look bad, and it all goes well - so to speak - until a full-scale war erupts, and star-crossed lovers Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) find themselves caught in the middle...
The material is an unusual choice for Disney, which traditionally favors straightforward adaptations of popular stories (albeit with necessary alterations) over postmodern riffs that combine tribute and spoof. This take on Shakespeare's tragedy would probably be better suited for a Dreamworks treatment, as they make no mystery of having older audiences in mind. Disney, on the other hand, is torn between pandering to younger viewers and giving Bard aficionados the fun yet intelligent picture they crave and deserve. Sure, there are in-jokes galore (the house numbers 2B and Not 2B are the standout), but the third act is particularly underwhelming, with too much screen-time for the mandatory talking animal sidekick (an annoying flamingo, voiced by Disney mainstay Jim Cummings) and a climax that has inevitably been altered - presumably - to keep the kids from crying.
When it works, however, Gnomeo & Juliet is an absolute joy: the opening send-up of the play's prologue set the tone quite nicely, Elton John's contribution to the soundtrack is faultless, and the voice cast is a hoot. Aside from the filmmakers having the nerve of putting Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne in the same film as Smith and Caine (surely a once in a lifetime kind of thing), the idea of incorporating Shakespeare himself as a character (voiced by Patrick Stewart) and having him criticize the film's plot detours is the self-mocking stroke of genius there should be more of throughout the movie.
All in all, this is a nice little film that is worth watching for entertainment value. It suffers from some lazy writing and questionable gags (shouldn't the Terrafirminator be voiced by Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of Hulk Hogan?), but it contains enough Shakespearean wit and invention to make for a fun 82 minutes.
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