Director: Kelly Asbury
Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Ashley Jensen
Runtime: 84 Minutes
If you like bastardised re-tellings of classic Shakespeare stories which use the under-rated medium of garden ornaments to deliver kitschy, watered-down rom-com stuff, then this is clearly the film for you. If, like me, you struggle to recall the lawn-mower or the Pink Flamingo in Romeo and Juliet when you read it way back when in Year Nine English classes, or just think that it all sounds like an appalling idea, then maybe don’t go see this one.
Basically, the Montague/Capulet divide manifests in the back gardens of two warring neighbours, played out by their respective garden Gnomes, simplified further by becoming merely the ‘Blues’ and the ‘Reds’ respectively. The humour just doesn’t bear scrutinising: malapropisms and bad play-on-words like ‘rest in pieces’ and ‘kick some grass’ just aren’t clever and just aren’t funny. It all ends in apocalyptic levels of obliteration when a lawn-mower (‘The Terrafirminator’) lets loose on both of the gardens. There may be some kind of subtext about war and the pointless destruction of it all, but I for one was too distracted by the absurdity of Gnomes getting it on to take too much notice thereof.
The best thing I can say about Gnomeo & Juliet is that it’s not been made for me, and actually it’s not a bad film if you’re trying to teach a four year-old about the conventions of romantic cinema. The high-point for me was the rather fun game I invented – ‘Which beloved British Actor/Actress is voicing this gnome?’ – yet, be warned, this can only entertain for so long. The film does have a great cast of voices; Ashley Jensen in particular, giving a manic performance as Nanette, a Toad friend of Juliet, which can best be described as a British equivalent to the performance of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo. The voice of Stephen Merchant also provides, all too briefly, some much-needed comic relief as Paris.
It’s just not even one of those things that people my age can watch in a kooky, kind of ironic way like Scooby Doo, or Wacky Races. What it lacks are the pop-culture references that make the rest of the excruciating hour and a half worthwhile; even the references to lines of Shakespeare’s dialogue are thin on the ground. The film tampers with the ‘Romeo, Romeo’ speech greatly and, added to a mere allusion to the ‘Rose by any other name…’ line, it’s frankly the bare minimum that it could get away with including.
There are plenty of examples of kids films that at least attempt to entertain the accompanying adults in the audience – Up, Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me have all proved in the past 18 months that it can be done to great success – sadly, this hasn’t followed suit.