Making the Grades
Using Shakespeare (voice by Patrick Stewart) as one’s inspiration can be difficult, especially when trying to retell a story as well known as his Romeo and Juliet. It takes some pretty creative characters, humor or tongue-in-cheek spoofs to make it happen. Unfortunately, Gnomeo & Juliet fails on all fronts.
The animated cast is made up of a host of garden gnomes, who like the characters in Toy Story, come to life when the humans are away. However, bonding with depictions of childhood toys is easier than these German inspired lawn ornaments that, quite frankly, are a little creepy at times. The characters’ gruff personalities and perpetual scowls don’t endear them either.
With such a familiar storyline, there is no need to set the stage or do lots of introductions—and the movie doesn’t. In the first few minutes of the production we’ve established the rivalry that exists between the Reds and the Blues and been privy to a precarious lawnmower race down the alley that results in a near-death experience for the hero, Gnomeo (voice by James McAvoy).
In the meantime, Juliet (voice by Emily Blunt) has her eye on a beautiful orchid growing in an abandoned greenhouse down the street. She steals into the night only to have her raid interrupted by Gnomeo who instantly falls in love with her. With the gist of the plot laid out, all that is left is to fill in the remaining run time with jokes and battle scenes.
Nanette (voice by Ashley Jensen), the frog friend of Juliet, provides much of the comic relief, but she’s the kind of overly excitable girlfriend you wouldn’t invite to a party or share a secret with. Later the two star-crossed lovers meet a pink plastic flamingo (voice by Jim Cummings) that is also meant to provide humor with his wisecracks. They often fall flat.
When it comes to the clashes, the warring neighbors resort to garden tools, chemical warfare and a super-powered lawnmower (Hulk Hogan’s voice is heard in the Internet ad for the machine). During their skirmishes, one gnome smashes against a wall and another is presumably run over by a truck. Other perilous situations arise when a character is nearly buried by a drooling dog and then tossed around the park by a bunch of teens.
This script’s nod to other movies also feels labored and even inappropriate at times. (Allusions to the R-rated films Brokeback Mountain and American Beauty are out of place in a G-rated production, even if they are meant for the parents.) As well, a reference to the 1954 television series Lassie seems, like the gnomes, to belong to a different generation than the one this story is aimed at.
With a soundtrack provided by the film’s executive producer, Elton John, and an unusual cast, this animation should offer more than it does. Unfortunately, these gnomes bomb when it comes to engendering any emotional tie with the audience. With belabored jokes and ill-timed puns, these lawn ornaments go over like a pair of cement shoes.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Gnomeo & Juliet.
Family feuds serve as the basis for many stories. How often has the reason for the fighting been forgotten? Why do individuals or families become entrenched in battles based on historic injustices or offenses? How do the young people break the cycle?
How do these characters compare with those from Toy Story? What makes humor work in an animation?