William Shakespeare’s classic tale of star crossed lovers has been staged and filmed countless times. Whether it’s been kept simple and pure as with Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet or modernized in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, there’s always room for another adaptation right? Or maybe not. Well, now the director of the best Shrek (2) has gone and neutered the Bard’s tale in a G-rated family version featuring feuding garden gnomes and R-rated film references in his Gnomeo & Juliet.
I have to admit, looking at the laundry list of director Kelly Asbury’s credits gave me a slight case of hope that this would be the underdog animated feature of the early dumping grounds of February. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. After hearing the film’s own behind the scenes tale about this being originally made for Miramax films and John Lasseter not being happy to be releasing the film at all (under Buena Vista’s Touchstone Pictures no less) should tell you something. Knowing how long Miramax and Disney have been split should give you an even better understanding behind the scrutiny (this happened clear back in 2005).
So alas, in Gnomeo & Juliet, we find said feuding “blue” and “red” gnomes amongst the gardens of single-old-folks-sharing-a-duplex Capulet and Montague living bickeringly on Verona Drive. The story maintains most of the original elements but seems hellbent on driving home its own modernizations including references to American Beauty, Borat and even Brokeback Mountain. I know studios want to keep parents entertained during these dismal kids’ affairs but they should know better than to include these kinds of film references, not to mention a character named “Shroom” along with penis and testicle jokes.
With seven screenwriters in tow, including Asbury himself, it’s no wonder that nothing gels. In an entire 84 minutes there are two jokes that work. 1) a reference to the famous line, “Out out, damn spot,” and 2) a hilarious commercial for the lawnmowers of all lawnmowers, the Terrafirminator that comes out of nowhere and makes you forget what movie you’re sitting in for at least a minute or two. This so much better than the rest of the film you can’t help but wonder if it was the work of Pixar having the last laugh by adding something as spectacularly funny as this is.