Today in Multimedia news, we have a film review from an undergraduate guest author, Laura Mc Glinchey, who takes on the 2011 animated Gnomeo and Juliet.
Gnomeo and Juliet. Nope, not a misprint, it really does say GNOMEO. This film opens with the admission that “The story you are about to see has been told before. A lot.” Yes, Disney’s Touchstone Pictures has gotten to grips with the greatest (and most adapted) love story of them all: Romeo and Juliet with . . . wait for it . . . garden gnomes. In fair Verona Street where director Kelly Asbury lays our scene, live two households both alike in dignity—yes, you’ve guessed it, Capulet and Montague. From forth the glorious gardens of these foes, the love between a pair of star-crossed garden gnomes grows.
Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a garden gnome from the blue Montague garden, while Juliet (Emily Blunt) is a red of the rival Capulet garden. The moment their chubby little hands and wide ceramic eyes meet for the first time their lives change irrevocably. This chance encounter sets in place the sweet love story that follows. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They are mortal enemies. So far, so Shakespeare, right?
Yet, before you go reaching for the hankies and the Ben and Jerry’s remember this movie is for kids so the tragedy is appropriately diluted (though it’s unlikely you’ll ever fully recover from the sight of a gnome strutting in a mankini). In fact, throw an amorous plastic frog (Ashley Jensen), a camp pink flamingo (Jim Cummings) and a talking Shakespeare statue (Patrick Stewart) into the mix, and you’ve got a seriously bizarre yet light-hearted spin on the classic tale.
However, as with Gnomeo and Juliet’s namesakes, the course of true love never did run smooth. That dratted cousin of Juliet’s keeps butting in. Step forward Tybalt, whose menacing eyebrows immediately scream baddie! Jason Statham’s tough guy tones inject a superb wicked quality into the thuggish red gnome. In scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in Statham’s Transporter franchise, we see Tybalt and Gnomeo locked in thrilling lawnmower races (because rapiers are so fourteenth century, darling) as the feud deepens between the rival gardens.
Indeed, the first confrontation we witness between the Reds and the Blues involves a motor race like one Danny Zuko might partake in (mini leather jackets would have been a nice finishing touch). Tybalt, ever the villain, cheats and deliberately attempts to knock Gnomeo off his mower in a highly charged action sequence that’s sure to keep you entertained. The energetic races are certainly welcome when you occasionally find your attention begin to waver.
It’s not all war though, and despite the cheap laugh with the mankini, the film is dotted with truly comic moments, a standout being the makeover montage which sees Gnomeo and Juliet dolling themselves up for their first date. As Gnomeo diligently fills in his beard with Tipp-Ex and rubs herbs under his arms to freshen up, we can’t help but laugh as it is so odd yet completely relatable. Cute moments like this render it impossible to not root for the loved up gnomes. They just want happiness, and where’s the harm in that?
The only fault with Gnomeo and Juliet is that the writers try just a bit too hard to be clever, churning out Shakespeare references to prove they know their Elizabethan drama. These jokes might induce a chuckle in parents or those brave souls who’ll admit to watching children’s movies, but they are completely lost on kids. Thankfully though, there are some genuinely funny scenes to enjoy. The exchange between acting royalty Maggie Smith and Michael Caine as Lady Bluebury and Lord Redbrick will have you laughing and cringing simultaneously. Lady Bluebury claims Redbrick’s tulips look limp; he replies that he doesn’t like what she is incinerating, obviously confusing it with the word ‘insinuating’. Lady Bluebury scoffs and brands him illiterate, to which he retorts “I am not illiterate! My parents were married!’’ Brilliant!
The true beauty of Gnomeo and Juliet is that it brings Shakespeare to a whole new audience. Add in a few garden ornaments, ditch the heavy tragedy and this Shakespeare stuff is pretty accessible for kids and adults alike. And while Shakespeare die-hards may bristle at this loose adaptation, garden gnomes are a surprisingly clever way of demonstrating how far-reaching the feud is between the humans, Montague and Capulet. In fact, it’s not dissimilar to the servant’s quarrel in Romeo and Juliet’s opening scene which shows the dispute affecting everyone, not just the families. To quote the playwright himself, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
So, to see or not to see? That is the question. The stellar cast and catchy Elton John tunes are the major draws, and the animation itself is simply stunning. Some may argue that Shakespeare would spin in his grave to see such a farce made of his beautiful tale, but I reckon he’d hum along to the groovy soundtrack, delighted by the longevity and popularity of his work. This film is perfect for its target audience, kids, and is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon—just don’t expect a masterpiece on par with Romeo and Juliet. But, hey, if you can’t beat Shakespeare, join him!
About the Author: Laura Mc Glinchey is a student at the National University of Ireland, Galway. When not found rewatching movies she has already seen twenty times before and being allergic to fresh air and the great outdoors, she is probably scribbling away on any available surface (yep, people included if they stand still long enough), pretending to be a writer!
Publication Note: An earlier version of this review was posted by the author online at IMDb.