Do you ever get the feeling that something seemed like a good idea but perhaps should never have left the drawing board stage of pre production? This is indubitably the feeling that I got after seeing DreamWorks and Touchstones newest animated film, “Gnomeo and Juliet”.
William Shakespeare’s time honored tale of star crossed lovers and feuding families set in the fair city of Verona takes on a strange twist with the entire story being redone by a cast of garden gnomes. The feuding Capulet and Montague clans being replaced by angry neighbors and the city of Verona changed to Verona Place a small street some where in the UK. The red hat gnomes led by Lord Redbrick who is voiced by the incomparable Michael Kane (Batman Begins, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) are the sworn enemy of the blue hat gnomes who are lead by Lady Bluebury voiced by the always charming Maggie Smith (Harry Potter films, Gosford Park), so is the setting for your rival clans.
Now to the lovers, Juliet, the daughter of Lord Redbrick, is voiced by Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria, The Devil Wears Prada) longs to leave her pedestal and stop being seen as a delicate object, instead she wants to be a butt kicking girl who represents the strength of the red hat gnomes and makes her father proud; and, of course Gnomeo, the son of Lady Bluebury, voiced by James McAvoy (Atonement, Wanted) who is the typical rebel blue hat gnome wanting nothing more than to destroy his rival clan and prove that the blue hat gnomes are the best. Still with me?
The two lovers meet by chance in a neutral zone, which just happens to be the neighboring empty house and quickly realize that they have affectionate feelings towards one another which are quickly dashed as they discover they are from the opposite clan. There is a confrontation between Juliet’s cousin Tybalt voiced by Jason Statham (Crank, The Transporter) and Gnomeo’s best friend Benny, voiced by Matt Lucas (Alice in Wonderland, Shaun of the Dead), after both clans are caught vandalizing the each other’s lawns, where amongst the chaos Benny’s hat gets broken and Gnomeo to avenge his friends lost hat lawnmower races with Tybalt, resulting in Tybalt getting smashed. Yes you read that right, Benny is Gnomeo’s best friend who gets injured… Benny, not Marty, or Mercutio as would be correct in the original play who is the injured party, Benny as in Benvolio? I don’t think we’ll ever know, but obviously the writers believed since they’d taken this many liberties, why not. To make a long story short, there is more chaos as they all believe Gnomeo to be dead, more revenge and in the end catastrophe, but not the catastrophe you might think. There is as always a happy ending but not quite an ending, as the writers who seemed to make such an issue out of the rivaling neighbors through out the film, never resolve the issue between them.
This film did not impress, even the audience full of children did not seem to pay too much attention to what was happening on the screen, they almost seemed confused and weren’t we all. The main characters, even though they were voiced by A list British stars, could not bring me into this very campy and messy film. The writers seemed to throw in every Shakespearean pun and famous quote they could think of in any way they could and didn’t seem to notice small details like the use of the title for the show “As You Like It”, used in two very different ways within the same scene! I do give credit to the supporting voice actors and cast such as the silly and very Latin pink plastic flamingo Featherstone voiced by Jim Cummings (Princess and the Frog, Super Hero Squad Show) who brought some much needed laughter to a rather dull script, and Nannette the frog/nanny for Juliet voiced by Ashley Jensen (How to Train Your Dragon, Extras) who made you laugh with how absent minded and ready for action she was thru the film. Even William Shakespeare’s bronze statue voiced by Patrick Stewart (X Men, Star Trek the Next Generation), who only had a few lines in the whole production was both charming and engaging, unfortunately he was only in for about 5 minutes. The music thru out the film was good, all pieces new and classic from Sir Elton John, and I appreciated that the score seemed to also be comprised of Elton John hits which gave me a small amount of laughter but to the youngsters in the audience not so much. But even with 6 writers, and an original classic story as well as Director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmeron) there was no helping this dreary film.
All in all I would not recommend this film, not even to families with children as the jokes and tired gags are not on the level for kids to understand and not funny enough for adults to appreciate. In fact I found some of the gags dated and out of touch for 2011, is there still a need to do the same slow motion shots from the Matrix films even today? I don’t think so. Perhaps sometimes going back to the drawing board isn’t such a bad thing.