Movie Review: “Gnomeo and Juliet” – They can’t both die, right?

The tagline makes me want to kick a lawn flamingo.

“Gnomeo and Juliet” (**1/2 )

Well I can’t spoil the ending, but probably the most fun part of this movie was watching them take Romeo & Juliet and adapt it to garden gnomes. The marketing tells us it’s the Red gnomes (on Mr. Capulet’s lawn) vs. the Blue gnomes (on Ms. Montague’s lawn) and they have been warring for as long as anyone can remember. When Gnomeo meets Juliet (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, respectively of course) in an abandoned garden, they instantly fall in love. Pretty standard so far.

Things start to stray more from Shakespeare when lawn mower races replace sword fights, the friar is a lawn flamingo, and the nurse is a frog who has a relationship with Paris. So maybe if you’re a die hard Shakespeare fan, I’d avoid this movie. But if I had kids, I think I would be just fine if this were the introduction to great tragedies. 

In true off-brand fashion  (i.e. not Dreamworks or  Pixar), it aims low and gently steps over that bar. No belly laughs, but lots of grins and small chuckles. There’s certainly the requisite adorable characters in the little bunny assistants to Gnomeo. The film, is sadly, ultimately forgettable. But not in a bad way, you-could-enjoy-watching-this-but-fall-asleep-in-the-middle-and-not-care-you-missed-anything way.

The voice cast is a really great cast of actors, but they fail to bring anything too special to the work. I would love to see Maggie Smith, James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, and Patrick Stewart in the same movie. How awesome would that be? But they aren’t really given too much to do, besides a couple surprisingly clever soliloquies and exchanges that are genuinely Shakespearian. Nanette, the frog nurse is incredibly annoying and says the phrase “doomed love” ten too many times, while the lawn flamingo with an unidentifiable accent just seemed unnecessary.

And Mercutio is a mushroom that cant talk.

Another great reason to take your kids to the movie is the awesome soundtrack. It’s a whole lot of Elton John, giving your kids a really fun intro to one of the greats. I’ve had “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” earwormed right in to my brain since this movie. Obviously there’s a final dance montage (it’s from Kelly Asbury, the director of Shrek 2. You knew there was going to be a dance at the end.) and it’s set to “Crocodile Rock”. There are two original songs in here which actually play pretty well. “Hello Hello” is a Elton John, Lady Gaga collaboration that sets the perfect stage for a quiet romance, while “Love Builds a Garden” is far sweeter, but used less effectively. The sound design is actually really impressive, with lots of great porcelain noises peppering the background. It’s used to comic effect very well.

The story also takes a mile long detour to explain away why they diverge from the play. I won’t give too much away, but it involves William Shakespeare himself. It’s definitely a good thing that they take the time to educate the youth that this is different, but it sometime’s gets a little clunky. It was definitely a noble success in that it pulled off a kid’s version of Romeo and Juliet, but it never transcends the kid’s movie label, which isn’t always a bad thing.

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