It would be really easy to go into Gnomeo and Juliet from a cynical perspective. An adaption of Romeo and Juliet as portrayed by garden gnomes, this is the type of script that seems to have been influenced by the title rather than any creative motivation. Further confusing things, the film is randomly scored by Elton John music, both old and new. This is a really odd film.
But having said that, it’s not all bad. As in introduction to one of Shakespeare’s most famous and accessible works, this is a harmless enough literary gateway for the kids, and one that adults can enjoy as well. Yes, it’s filled with puns, random dance numbers, and some of the most inane dialogue I’ve seen in a long time, but at the same time, the film is pretty fun. Taking a cue from the Pixar playbook, the filmmakers are able to derive a lot of humor from the juxtaposition of the world of inanimate objects with the real world we all reside in.
In this world, the Montagues and the Capulets have been reduced from rival families to rival neighbors. And for some reason, these hate-filled neighbors have populated their yards with the tackiest looking gnomes they can find. One of them has gnomes all in red, and the other’s gnomes are all in blue. And of course, it is war between the two. While this may be a greatly simplified approach to the story, it’s important to remember that this is a children’s film, and the way these ideas are stripped down could really help children to understand the complexities of the story when they approach it later in life.
Directed by Kelly Asbury (one of the directors of Shrek 2), this is a vibrantly animated film that is sure to keep the kid’s interest. Running a mere 84 minutes, the story is constantly moving forward, and there’s always something interesting happening. Helping to keep my interest was the fantastic voice cast. Featuring a who’s who of British talent, I was shocked to find that they were able to get such big names as Michael Caine, James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, and on and on. They even managed to get Patrick Stewart to briefly appear as Shakespeare himself.
As mentioned above, the film also features Elton John in a prominent role. Not only does his music feature heavily throughout, but he serves as an Executive Producer as well. He wrote two new songs for the film, both of which are pretty good, and the score is comprised of audio cues from classic Elton John tracks. As composed by James Newton Howard and Chris Bacon, it’s like an audio Where’s Waldo of Elton John music.
While there aren’t many extras on the Blu-Ray, Elton John features pretty prominently. One of the longest features (running just over 5 minutes), is called “Elton Builds A Garden,” and focuses on the influence he had over the whole production. The movie comes from Rocket Pictures, which is his production company, and as such, he played a pretty large role in the production of the film. While this feature showcases his creative input, there is also a lot of footage of everybody talking about how great the whole production is.
Other features include a look at British actress Ashley Jensen recording her dialogue as a plastic frog, and humorously shows her working with a dialect coach for a gag where she starts speaking Japanese. There is also a new music video for this film’s version of Crocodile Rock, as performed by Nelly Furtado with Elton John, and some deleted and alternate scenes. Rounding out the disc is a feature called “The Fawn of Darkness,” showing Ozzy Osbournce recording some of his dialogue as a surprisingly funny lawn deer.
Overall, this is a slight, but entertaining film. It will definitely keep the kids occupied, and, best-case-scenario, spark an interest in the original source material. I was really impressed with the animation overall, and had a lot of fun watching this. While the script doesn’t even come close the Pixar quality, there are definitely worse ways you could spend your time.