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Gnomeo & Juliet (Frank's take)

01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Gnomeo & Juliet in the USA - or Buy Gnomeo & Juliet in the UK

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Now where can one go wrong in the cozy kid-friendly computer-animated romantic comedy Gnomeo & Juliet? Aside from the cutesy concept of bringing William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to the munchkin-oriented masses for them to adore on their level this charming ditty offers a new perspective of appreciating one’s valued garden gnomes—and at the expense of The Bard’s classic tale of love and loss.

The giddy truth is that Gnomeo & Juliet is a spry and engaging kiddie crowd-pleaser drenched in impishness, imagination and high-spirited personality.

One may anticipate the Toy Story comparisons and hastily cry foul on cue. Well, that’s truly understandable but this doesn’t mean that the warm-hearted family-style fantasy fails to work on its own identifiable merits. For starters, Gnomeo & Juliet has its amiable-minded roots settled in the triumphant tastes of executive producer Elton John’s toe-tapping tunes than it does concentrating on blueprinting the aforementioned Toy Story or offering a distinctive spin on Shakespeare’s tragic tales of feuding families and forbidden love. The revolving influence of John’s recognisable festive songs plastered throughout the film, capable voiceover work from considerable British talents, colourful characterisations, innocuous humour, messages of tolerance and devotion—all fuel this creatively festive flick with a punch of inspired pithiness.

Directed by Kelly Ashbury (“Shrek 2”), Gnomeo & Juliet does not serve up anything distinctively unique that one has not experienced in spunky 3-D animated fables previously. In fact, the visuals (courtesy of Starz Animation based out of Toronto) aren’t what you call in groundbreaking Pixar-related precision mode. Still, the vitality of the visual feedback is strikingly gorgeous from the chipped gnomes to the surrounding countryside of our pottery protagonists’ universe. Nevertheless, Gnomeo & Juliet manages to create an opulent scope on the shoulders of three-dimensional ceramic garden gnomes, pink flamingos and other intriguing ornaments that provide decorative, detailed scope.

The movie takes place in the adjoining backyards of the Montague and Capulet households listed at the address of 2B and Not 2B Verona Drive, England (get it…how clever!). It does not help matters that the bickering families are divided despite the land they share at the hip. Ms. Montague and Mr. Capulet are at their wits end as they are forced to tangle with trading tirades. Interestingly, the Montague and Capulet blue and red garden gnomes echo the acrimony of their feisty owners. Lady Blueberry (voice of Maggie Smith) is the leader of the blue gnomes while Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) oversees red gnome activities.

Things become more tumultuous when Lady Blueberry’s son Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) develops an attraction for Lord Redbrick’s lovely daughter Juliet (Emily Blunt). This conflict of interest is bewildering to Gnomeo because he has always been programmed to despise the “red menace”. In fact, Gnomeo gets a kick out of regularly challenging the thuggish red gnome Tybalt (Jason Statham) with his cunning do-or-die attitude. Still, finding immense infatuation with the enchanting red gnome pixie Juliet is forbidden and dangerous but hey…Gnomeo cannot resist the temptation as these two lovebirds carrying on their affair despite the warning signs of hostility that exist between their warring factions.

As Gnomeo and Juliet get closer in their growing passion, the garden becomes a war zone for the fighting red and blue gnomes set on destruction and despair. Can Gnomeo and Juliet’s sturdy bond of affection outweigh the brutality and biases of their conflicted cohorts threatening to up the ante of vitriol at Verona Drive? Will Gnomeo and Juliet’s daring love convince their squabbling gnome associates that caring for one regardless of difference and defiance can make for a humane solution? Naturally, we all know what poor Gnomeo and Juliet are destined for so the cliffhanger inquiries are rather unnecessary…don’t you think?

Overall, the playful escapism that is Gnomeo & Juliet radiates soundly and sweetly. The film carries its message efficiently through the quirky means of various backyard fixtures. As the committed gnomes in undying love and faithfulness, McAvoy’s Gnomeo and Blunt’s Juliet are believably enchanting that recalls those critical Shakespearean words “parting with it is such sweet sorrow.” Delightfully eccentric, Gnomeo & Juliet shines as qualifying kiddie fare. Some will embrace the cheeky slapstick and pine for their favourite supporting characterisations that range from a peppy pink flamingo to Juliet’s reliable and trusty frog friend.

There is a who’s who of notable voice artists that turn up to join leads McAvory and Blunt in vocalized fun and frolic. Additional supporting players include the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Julie Waters and Ashley Jensen whose chippy voice encompasses the Juliet’s sidekick frog. Even the disciplined Shakespearean actor and iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation’s revered Patrick Stewart shows up to deliver some zippy dialogue from The Bard. Shrewdly, Elton John lends more than his hit tunes to spice up the playtime proceedings—look for his trademark big sunglasses to make a zany mark as worn by one of the many gnomes.

Granted that Gnomeo & Juliet does fall short in its quest to join the superlative ranks of animated powerhouses in the footpaths of Toy Story and Shrek as its depth and dynamics is shallow in comparison. The entertaining result, however, still is deliciously evident in the showy shenanigans. Ah, good ole Billy Shakespeare’s grandkids would have been so proud.

Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) Touchstone Pictures
1 hr. 24 mins.
Starring (the voices of…): James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham
Directed by: Kelly Ashbury
MPAA Rating: G

Critic’s Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)

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