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Saturday, February 12, 2011

‘Gnomeo & Juliet’ Brings Childish Joy For Few

Gnomeo & Juliet = 2 out of 5
Lord Redbrick:  Red gnomes and blue gnomes have been enemies forever!
Right off the bat, I am going to say that I will be surprised with how much I have to say about this movie by the time I reach the end of this review.  For whatever reason, Disney has not only decided to produce an animated comedy about lawn gnomes (which is not a bad idea), but has for some reason decided to base it on the plot of one of the most famous romantic tragedies of all time and release it during Valentine’s Day weekend.  I dare you to guess how far the studio wanted to take these characters by the time it got to the end.

James McAvoy and Emily Blunt stars as the voices for Gnomeo and Juliet.  Both live in opposite back yards of two people who hate each other.  Those people of course have the last names of Ms. Montegue and Mr. Capulet, and they live on Verona drive.  Gnomeo and Juliet meet one starry night, in disguise, instantly become smitten for one another, but soon realize that they are from different sides of the fence.  The romantic adventure goes on from there!


This film also features a talented English voice cast, which includes Michael Caine as Lord Redbrick, Jason Statham as Tybalt (yes!), Maggie Smith as Lady Blueberry, Ashely Jensen as Nanette, Matt Lucas as Benny, Stephen Merchant as Paris, along with Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, and Hulk Hogan in small roles.  Strangely, this is not the weirdest cast list I have seen, but it is close.


Additionally, in an attempt to keep this film hip for the kids, Elton John (who also served as a producer, and if I had to guess, a creative consultant) provides the film with most of its music, and even has the score lift the rhythms from many of his classic hits.  This certainly does help provide some bounce for the film and gets us the chance to see gnomes wearing crazy sunglasses!


What hurts this film the most, are its attempts at using pop-culture references (Using such timely hits as The Matrix, American Beauty, and Forrest Gump among others) to fuel much of its humor from scene to scene.  Somehow, seven credited writers worked on the script for this film, and as much as it has to have good intentions, as this is a G-rated, animated film about gnomes, its attempts to bridge the gap between shiny colors and obscure talking things for kids and witty remarks and sight gags for adults is just not handled that well.  It was much easier to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing than it was at the film’s legitimate attempts at humor.

Beyond a handful of admittedly funny moments (they are sparse, but true), the film does benefit from solid animation and sound design.  The gnomes have a hand crafted feel that makes these characters all feel unique and carefully put together…before they are broken apart.  And all the little sounds clay gnomes would make when interacting with environments and other characters perfectly suit them and feel quite familiar.

 
Not much else to say here, but I’ve gotten this far, so I will point out the moment this film decides to feel truly more smug than it should, and that is when Gnomeo interacts with a statue of Shakespeare and tells him that his version of this story is rubbish and boos his terrible ending.  Yep, this movie has the chutzpah to make fun of the writings of William Shakespeare, and I’m sure it will be taking that and a handful of money (thanks to its 3D treatment) all the way to the bank.

Yes, this movie is for kids, but you know what?  So is Toy Story 3 and a great deal of other animated features (including The Illusionist), which are better written, better made, and truly suitable for everyone.  I think there is a good and humorous movie that could have come from one about animated lawn gnomes, but this one was not it.
Juliet:  Gnomeo, oh Gnomeo, where are you?...

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