Gnomeo & Juliet
Rated G, 84 min. Directed by Kelly Asbury. Voices by James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne.
It’s a common complaint that there are no new ideas, but I can’t imagine – in the history of the universe or Hollywood – pitch sessions at which more than one guy has proffered, “Hey, what do you think about redoing Romeo and Juliet with garden gnomes?” Still, novelty alone does not a good idea make, and in the case of Gnomeo and Juliet, it’s rather a disturbing, even fetishy one. There are a few gentle laughs here, some witty stitching, yes; in this new golden age of animation, even the most pedestrian entertainment is clearing an elevated bar. Still: “This is weird,” I jotted down in my notepad at the theatre, and that impression, arrived at early, was impossible to shake. (“No, this is really weird.”) A clever prologue, scatting on “Two households, both alike in dignity,” soft-lands the audience into the film’s two imperatives: 1) This is Shakespeare’s story, in plot if not poetic resonance, and 2) it’s enacted by animated gnomes – you know, the pointy-hat ceramic pieces you drop in the yard next to the geraniums. (You’ve seen their earlier work in Amélie and those Travelocity commercials, which means you already know that expressiveness is not their forte.) I could waste your time and mine laying out the particulars of the film – how it’s set in adjacent British garden plots, how the lawn art comes to life when humans aren’t watching, and how the tomboyish princess gnome (voiced by Blunt) in one yard falls for the young buck (voiced by McAvoy) next door, even though he’s her sworn enemy – but like I said, we’ve got better things to do. I might also note that, as a producer, Elton John has given leave for the filmmakers to sprinkle his greatest hits throughout (with little relation to what’s actually happening onscreen) and supplied a new, instantly forgettable song that nevertheless will probably make the short list for next year’s Oscars. But what you really need to know is this: With nine screenwriters laboring to animate lawn ornaments with some anima or life force, the effect is, rather dismally, like watching a child mash two doll faces together and use silly voices for commentary. I should correct my math: That’s 10 screenwriters if you count Shakespeare, but had he the chance, I bet he’d lobby the Writers Guild for an Alan Smithee credit.
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