This past February, a new take on the classic Romeo & Juliet story came to theaters. This one definitely looked kid-friendly, thanks to the goofy animation and the main characters – two garden gnome clans. Yes, those silly little ceramic pieces some people put in their gardens. No, not the gnomes of sci-fi lore – or even the ugly buggers from Harry Potter.
The only problem: in this classic tragedy, the two main characters die (and by their own hands, no less). Would Gnomeo & Juliet be able to turn this tale on it’s head without becoming too cheesy? Or will this be the first animated film to promote teen suicide? While I didn’t really care to discover the answer, I was able to pick up the DVD from redbox® this weekend for free. Would Gnomeo & Juliet turn out to be less silly than it’s previews had led me to believe?
The voice cast is surprisingly robust, with James McAvoy (Wanted (2008)) and Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau (2011)) in the title roles. There’s also a surprisingly familiar backup cast, including Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Jason Statham, Michael Caine and even Hulk Hogan.
Thankfully, James and Emily aren’t too recognizable by their voices, so the film has an easier time convincing the viewer the voices belong with these strange ceramic bodies. Even the familiar names in the backup cast aren’t easily recognizable, so the viewer never has a hard time with memorable faces not matching what’s on-screen. The only truly recognizable voice is Hulk Hogan, and the filmmakers use this to their advantage as well, both playing on his tendency to say “brother” and by using him as a voice-over for a computer ad. Even the voices of Patrick Stewart (“William Shakespeare”) and Ozzy Osbourne (“Fawn”) aren’t as easily recognizable, and seem to fit well with their characters.
While the premise seems sound, if ridiculously silly, it’s the execution that occasionally leaves room for doubt. Since silly ideas have worked before (the references to Toy Story (1995) – a film that made a seemingly silly premise work – are obvious, right down to the gnomes freezing when a human is in sight), that’s nothing new. But, the film too often goes for the easy gag (an overweight gnome in a barely-there swimsuit for example, is a running gag). Plus, more often than not, the gag is accompanied by a pun (“You look like a fun guy [fungi]” is one comment to a mushroom, for example). The kids may get a kick out of these bad puns, but the adults will find themselves groaning at the ridiculousness of it all.
And then the film starts to stray from it’s original story, and the cheese factor rises up another several notches. Moments near the end are almost too sickeningly cheesy to watch without turning away in embarrassment. And that’s even after you meet the pink flamingo with the over-the-top Spanish accent.
Still, a surprisingly well-rounded voice cast and some entertaining sequences help make Gnomeo & Juliet somewhat bearable, but the thought of sitting through yet another animated film composed nearly entirely of Elton John songs may cause many to back away. After all, ever since The Lion King (1994) was able to make a soundtrack composed nearly entirely of Elton John, so many animated films have followed in it’s footsteps. By this point, viewers may have developed an Elton John overload, and won’t be able to stand the thought of making it through yet another film with him.
With Elton John controlling the soundtrack (again) and the cheese factor rising quite high at times, adults will probably find Gnomeo & Juliet a little too silly for their tastes…but their kids may just eat it up.