Theatrical Review: GNOMEO & JULIET

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
February 10th, 2011

Rating: 3/5

Writers: Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy GreenbergAndy Riley, Steve Hamilton Shaw (screenplay), John R. Smith and Rob Sprackling (original screenplay)
Director: Kelly Asbury
Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Jim Cummings
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

A good pun is no excuse to make a movie. Certainly, a bad pun is an even weaker jumping-off point for a film. So let’s make this clear from the outset – GNOMEO & JULIET is a terrible name for a film, the sort of title a bunch of stoned college kids would come up with, laugh at hysterically, and forget the next day. But when it comes to moving past that title-as-an-excuse-for-a-plot device, GNOMEO & JULIET is a frequently funny and cheerfully charming family film that (gasp!) actual whole families might enjoy. If your kids haven’t forgiven you for taking them to see YOGI BEAR 3D yet, make it up to them with this sweet (and accessible) spin on the Bard’s best-loved tale.

There is no getting around one basic fact here – this is a film about garden gnomes. But once you get past the specifics of the ceramics, as it were, GNOMEO & JULIET deftly starts pulling at some very human heartstrings. You can probably guess the general plot just by title – Gnomeo and Juliet are garden gnomes from two warring garden nations, battling for backyard supremacy in the split yard of, you guessed it, Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet. The specifics of the feud are unknown, we just know it’s been raging for awhile (ancient blood, new mutiny, all those bells and whistles), and it probably has a little something to do with the intense competition of lawnmower-racing that the gnomes use as their preferred method of battle. Gnomeo and Juliet meet, greet, fall in love, that old story. But is their love truly doomed, or is there any chance of burying the feud in the local compost heap?

GNOMEO & JULIET is often quite amusing, bouncing between clever sight gags and reappropriations of classic Romeo and Juliet characters (in this iteration, Juliet’s nurse is a ditzy ceramic pond frog with an eye for the male gnomes and Friar Laurence has been turned into a friend-hungry lawn flamingo who resembles Hank Azaria’s character in THE BIRDCAGE more than would normally be expected in a kid flick). The film is also packed with some more adult gags for older viewers, and enough nods to the Bard himself (and his other works) to keep Shakespeare wonks happy.

The film also has a real heart to it – so much so that, when the gnomes “remember” just whose world they are living in and strike back into their prescribed gnome stances, we’re just as jarred, too. Right, these are gnomes. Then how come that damn yard flamingo made me tear up (twice)? And, like the best of kids flicks, GNOMEO & JULIET works in some bigger questions to marinate in the little ones’ brains – the film doesn’t just harp on petty love affairs, it also has something to say about the nature of hate, violence, war, and ultimately acceptance.

GNOMEO & JULIET is also jammed with a nearly ludicrous list of talents who lend voices to various characters – including James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Jim Cummings, Matt Lucas, and, just for fun, Dolly Parton, Hulk Hogan, and Ozzy Osbourne. Not enough talent for you? Fine, the entire soundtrack is Elton John songs. Are you not impressed? You’re a tough gnome to smash. How about this? The most obvious joke in the entire film is also the funniest. And sometimes, you have to call a (garden) spade a (garden) spade – GNOMEO & JULIET is simply a (garden variety) good time.

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