You may find this difficult to believe, but William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been made and remade and reimagined and reinvented and recreated and repurposed an incredible number of times. One of the latest of these new versions of the classic tale of love comes to us from Touchstone and Rocket Pictures with Gnomeo & Juliet.
The computer animated film directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) is all about a war between blue and red garden gnomes, and two gnomes from opposite sides who fall in love. James McAvoy voices Gnomeo, a member of the blue gnome camp and Emily Blunt gets to play Juliet, who is on the red gnome side of things. The rest of the cast is also full of big names including Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart, Hulk Hogan, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Jason Statham, Jim Cummings, Stephen Merchant, Julie Walters, Michael Caine, and Maggie Smith. Virtually all of the voice performances are excellent, with Hogan’s over-the-top voiceover in a commercial truly being a standout (and one honed from year’s of experience as a wrestler).
As for the specifics of the plot, well, it’s Romeo and Juliet again, isn’t it? Or, more accurately, it is and it isn’t. Romeo and Juliet contains one of the most famous endings in the history of plays, and it’s an ending that doesn’t work particularly well for a kids film. Consequently, Gnomeo doesn’t follow that ending. It certainly hints that it may try, particularly when a statue of Shakespeare (voiced by Stewart) comes alive and sort of explains how things are supposed to go down.
While it is pretty clear that you can’t make a G-rated film in which your adorable little stars die at the end and everything is left sadness and tears, the movie does lose its way with its third act. The appearance of Shakespeare really sets the movie off on a course that it need not have traveled down, it is a wink too much towards what is “supposed” to take place, particularly as no one who knows the story would ever believe that an animated feature meant for kids would end as the play ends. Consequently, bringing it up just muddies the waters.
One of the big selling points of Gnomeo is the music, both new and old, from Elton John. If John is your particular cup of tea you will most likely find the songs enjoyable and wish that the feature had gone down more of a traditional musical route. If John isn’t your thing, the odds are that what is present of his music, while not enough to make this a musical, is still all too prevalent.
So if all of those bits don’t work, what does? Well, just about everything else. The truth is that the story of Romeo and Juliet is timeless because similar situations play out over and over and over again; it is a highly relatable story, even when told with garden gnomes. When transposed to said gnomes and imagining a world in which the gnomes (and various other garden statues) come alive, it is quite amusing. There is plenty of comic relief to mix with the romantic storyline, and a pretty thrilling lawnmower racing action sequence or two.
There are some truly inspired moments in the film, and even those that aren’t all that brilliant pass rather quickly with the 84 minute runtime. Watching the gnomes battle it out only when no one else is looking leads to plenty of amusing situations, even if some of them end up feeling rather Toy Story-esque.
Where the film is really outstanding is with its Blu-ray presentation. I have said this before, but it certainly bears repeating, the folks at Disney know how to put a movie on Blu-ray. The visuals here are absolutely outstanding. The colors are rich, the textures fantastic, and the details eye-popping. The film is a wonder to behold in high definition, with nearly every frame providing something to marvel at. The sound, a 7.1 channel DTS-HD MA track, too, is exceptional. It is crystal clear with plenty of bass and very immersive. If the animation didn’t clue you in to the truth, there are moments when you might actually believe that a monster lawnmower known as the Terrafirminator is bearing down on you, or that you are in the middle of a rock concert put on by backyard statues.
The film itself is a mix of inspired ideas and more mundane ones, but the Blu-ray extras can’t quite even manage the mix. There are a couple of short featurettes on Elton John’s participation, the work of Ozzy Osbourne and that Sarah Jensen in the film, and a music video. There are also a couple of alternate endings and deleted/alternate scenes (which are not fully animated). It really is all very basic and only nominally interesting bits of material. A DVD is also included, no digital download is available in this set, but if you opt to go with the 3D Blu-ray, a download is provided.
I do not think that within the pantheon of Romeo and Juliet-based works, Gnomeo & Juliet will be particularly well remembered. It is by no stretch of the imagination a brilliant reimagining even if it does manage some pretty funny moments. It is a film which children may highly enjoy and which will provide adults with a few chuckles here and there. The animation is outstanding and the concept is clever, but it is never quite as good as it should and the poor third act will leave some with a distinctly bad taste in their mouth as the credits roll.