Take a moment to consider this combination – Shakespeare, Elton John and lawn gnomes. Just mull that one around for a moment. Now think to yourself, does this have the makings of a good movie? If your answer was yes, then congratulations, you have what it takes to be a movie executive.
In all seriousness, Gnomeo and Juliet isn’t a bad movie, it’s just…odd. Really, what else would you expect when you decide to act out Romeo and Juliet with lawn gnomes in a British garden community? Layer on Elton John’s greatest hits instead of an original score, and you have something that is completely different.
If you enjoy British humor or sensibilities, you will probably like a good bit of this film. I am one of those people, and there are nice touches to the movie that were quite amusing. The back and forth of the people who own the houses where the gnomes “live” is very funny, as are the performances of the voice actors. It’s an all star cast, with James McAvoy and Emily Blunt in the title roles, supported by Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Jason Statham and even Ozzy Osbourne.
However, if you are someone who loves Shakespeare and particularly Romeo and Juliet, then this is a mixed bag. The idea that this is a translation of the original story but only with lawn gnomes is not entirely true. There are several deviations from the classic story, especially the ending (which I will not spoil). As a nod to Shakespeare fans, though, there are lots of Easter Eggs, including my favorite, the Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Moving Company.
Elton John lovers will be disappointed. The classic songs from Sir Elton’s catalog are all here, but only in small snippets, and mostly in the background or as score pieces. They’re not essential to the story, and are sort of an ill fit for a movie that is already shoehorning one modern piece into a classic mold.
None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the film. It manages to amuse for a large portion of the film, and the plot is quite good, as you would expect. The problem is that none of the characters are really well developed. The strength of the original Shakespearean play is that we learn so much about Romeo and Juliet that it’s easy for us to fall in love with them. Not so in this movie. Gnomeo and Juliet relies on the fact that the viewer knows the original story, and neglects character development because of it.
If you have kids, it’s certainly a fun time at the movies. There are enough fun bits and good jokes that the kids will like it, at least while they’re in the theater. There aren’t many scary moments, save the very end, and there’s enough there for boys and girls. A week later, however, they will have forgotten everything about the movie. It’s a fun distraction, but not really much more.