Home > Film > Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)


Since this is a film brought to fruition by the partnership between Elton John and David Furnish, and they have also just announced a new addition to their family, I suppose I should start this review with the shout, “It’s a gnome!”

Gnomeo and Juliet has been eleven years in the making with still some bad feeling between Elton John and Disney which was originally slated to animate the script. As I sit down to write this review, it has already taken $120 million at the world’s box offices which, by any standards, is a reasonable amount since its release on the 11th February. All of which begs the question: is it any good?

David Furnish, Emily Blunt, Elton John and James McAvoy at the premier

There’s always a risk when a project has been so long in the pipeline that it loses something vital. People have too much time. They overthink. The developing work ends up lacking spontaneity. . . Not, of course, that an animated film is ever really spontaneous given the amount of effort that has to go into physically making it and then getting the voices synched in. But. . .

Early action from Gnomeo and Juliet

I’m put in mind of an old joke. Lost in the Irish countryside, the English driver asks a local, “If you were going to Dublin from here, which way would you go?” The local thinks for a moment and relies,”Well, if I was going to Dublin, I certainly wouldn’t start from here.” There comes a moment with a concept when the author has a decision to make. He’s planning a parody of a Shakespeare classic and he’s asking himself, “Can I get to Romeo and Juliet if I start with garden gnomes?” At this point, he should have remembered the joke. There have been some, and probably will be more, brilliant re-imaginings of Shakespearean plays. There have been some remarkably inventive animated films staring all manner of animals, creatures and “beings”. There even was a BBC TV show called the Gnomes of Dulwich in which Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd played out a conflict between their own garden paradise populated by original stone gnomes, and the new plastic gnomes next door. Since Elton John is old enough to remember this short series, it may have influenced his choice. Except the Dulwich gnomes were intended as a comedic exploration of more serious issues like race relations, whereas this is apparently worth nothing more than cheap shots at Shakespeare. There’s always scope for using rats or pandas to say something interesting about the human condition. . .

Tybalt hanging tough

So the first sign of impending disaster is the metafictional opening. We have the camera in a theatre awaiting the curtain rising on a production of Romeo and Juliet as played by gnomes. We have a gnome begin the Prologue dodging the hook to pull him into the wings. My heart sinks. We can have great fun with Shakespeare, or we can have an original story with gnomes, but not both together. So here’s the set-up. In semi-detached gardens, we have Blue and Red hatted gnomes. They come to life when no humans are watching and freeze if they are about to be noticed — if this sounds like Toy Story. . . The metafiction continues with Shakespeare putting in an appearance and the entire cast (including a partly reconstituted Tybalt), taking a curtain call at the end.

There are some good things to say. The quality of the animation is good and I always enjoy listening to Elton John’s music. Indeed, on one or two occasions, the use of the music is very clever to those of us who remember the lyrics. It was fun to hear some of the voices with Jason Statham and Hulk Hogan typecast as the violent bad guys. James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are adequate as our star-crossed lovers. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear Michael Caine back in action. While the rest of the top-class professionals are all pitch perfect with whatever thankless words they’re given. But the sad reality is that the first half drags. There’s no emotional set up. We get pitched into set-pieces like the lawnmower race before we’ve been given a chance to identify with the various characters and understand their relationships. Although it does improve slightly towards the end as we move away from the strict line of Shakespeare and get into the acquisition of the Terrafirmator, it remains strangely uninvolving. I really didn’t care that much who survived with merely a chip and who got pulverised.

It’s all a bit of a shame. I wanted it to be better than it is. So, if you have children, it’s easy on the eye and will probably hold their attention. But for parents, I’m afraid there’s little for you other than the thought that it’s relatively short, being a mere 84 minutes long. Then, there’s just the post-film ritual of a burger or whatever else your children demand, and a stiff drink waiting for you when you get home.

Here are reviews of the films featuring Jason Statham:
Blitz (2011)
Gnomeo and Juliet
Killer Elite (2011)
Safe (2012)


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