You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Gnomeo & Juliet

Shakespeare with lawn ornaments turns out to be an unexpectedly winning proposition in "Gnomeo & Juliet."

Voices: Gnomeo - James McAvoy
Juliet - Emily Blunt
Nanette - Ashley Jensen
Lord Redbrick - Michael Caine
Benny - Matt Lucas
Featherstone - Jim Cummings
Lady Bluebury - Maggie Smith
Tybalt - Jason Statham

Shakespeare with lawn ornaments turns out to be an unexpectedly winning proposition in “Gnomeo & Juliet,” which restages the Bard’s tragedy as a romantic comedy set in the secret world of garden gnomes. Offering a welcome dose of honest silliness at a time when most family-oriented toons settle for smart-alecky, this long-gestating Disney release may be hobbled by middling early buzz, a so-so 3D conversion and a marketing push that doesn’t entirely sell its eccentric charms. Still, it’s the sort of pleasingly goofy diversion that could grow an audience if given the chance. Merchandising and ancillary streams are a given.

Set up at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 2005 through Rocket Pictures, the imprint of exec producer Elton John (who contributed new and classic tunes to the soundtrack), “Gnomeo & Juliet” was initially shelved under the new toon regime of John Lasseter before being passed on to the now-defunct Miramax. Six years after its inception, the film is being released as the first G-rated production under Disney’s Touchstone banner.

Yet despite all its foster parents (as well as a script and story credited to a kitchen-crowding nine writers), this pint-sized, de-iambicized fairy tale emerges an enjoyable piece of whimsy whose ridiculous premise — think “West Side Story” with porcelain puppets and British accents — is somehow sustained from wobbly start to happy finish. While unlikely to be remembered as an artistic or commercial pinnacle in animation, the film nonetheless disarms with its sparkling vocal turns, adroit balance of humor and emotion, and an engaging visual style that’s all of a piece, despite occasionally trippy interludes that suggest a vintage Troll-doll commercial.

Cranky neighbors Miss Montague (voiced by Julie Walters) and Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson) are unaware that their personal feud is being enacted on a smaller scale by the gnomes that populate their respective gardens. Distinguished by the colors of their pointy hats, the blue gnomes maintain an uneasy stalemate with their red nemeses, the two factions occasionally venting their mutual animosity through high-octane lawn-mower races.

In one of many clever Shakespearean variations, both dashing blue-gnome champion Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and spirited red-gnome damsel Juliet (Emily Blunt) are in disguise when they first meet, and thus fall in love without realizing they’re sworn enemies. When they learn the truth, the fact that their color-coded identities are actually painted on lends their dilemma a measure of authentic poignancy.

One of the immediately appealing aspects of the film’s design, supervised by a team of animators under director Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”), is that the star-cross’d lovers, far from being cookie-cutter attractive in the way we’ve come to expect from such fare, are instead allowed to be unapologetically gnomic: petite, pleasingly rotund and full of character. (Gnomeo even sports a trim white beard, which must signify youthfulness in this wizened culture.)

Not unlike the playthings in “Toy Story,” these gnomes spring to life only when humans aren’t watching. If “Gnomeo & Juliet” never quite plumbs the existential depths of that Disney-Pixar franchise, it nonetheless conveys a real and affecting sense of what it’s like to be a fragile knick-knack in a hostile world. When it’s curtains for big bully Tybalt (Jason Statham), the effect may well be too shattering for very young tots, despite the material’s otherwise relentlessly feel-good spin.

While the film bears some of the crasser elements common to most studio toons, it has a refreshing ability to turn its missteps into virtues. Instead of overdoing the pop-culture references, the script overdoes the corny Shakespeare in-jokes — a preferable and educational alternative. Broad supporting characters such as Juliet’s frog nurse (Ashley Jensen) and a Spanish-accented plastic flamingo (Jim Cummings) somehow become endearing with time, while it’s hard to dislike a movie that finds bit parts for Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton. And the fact that garden gnomes themselves are kitsch relics somehow makes the extensive plundering of John’s back catalog (including “Your Song” and “Crocodile Rock”) weirdly appropriate.

Production designer Karen deJong brings to life a miniature world of picket fences, overgrown yards and abandoned greenhouses, while Gary Dunn’s involving character designs have none of the stiff, Chucky-like creepiness one might expect. On its own relatively modest terms, “Gnomeo & Juliet” succeeds in creating a fully imagined world, albeit one that would have been more enjoyable, and easier to take in, without the indifferent 3D rendering it receives here.

Gnomeo & Juliet


Production: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (in U.S.) release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Rocket Pictures production. Produced by Baker Bloodworth, Steve Hamilton Shaw, David Furnish. Executive producer, Elton John. Co-producer, Igor Khait. Directed by Kelly Asbury. Screenplay, Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Mark Burton, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Steve Hamilton Shaw, Asbury; story, Rob Sprackling, John Smith, Riley, Cecil, Asbury, Shaw, based on an original screenplay by Sprackling, Smith.

Crew: (Technicolor, Deluxe color domestic prints, Technicolor international prints, 3D); editor, Catherine Apple; music, James Newton Howard, Chris Bacon; music supervisors, Kaylin Frank, Matt Walker; songs, Elton John, Bernie Taupin; production designer/art director, Karen deJong; visual effects supervisor, Corey D. Smith; animation supervisor, Henry F. Anderson III; character designer, Gary Dunn; sound designers (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Glenn Freemantle, Tom Sayers; re-recording mixers, Chris Burdon, Doug Cooper, Richard Pryke; associate producer, Kara Lord Piersimoni; casting, Gail Stevens. Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, Feb. 5, 2011. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 83 MIN.

With: Voices: Gnomeo - James McAvoy
Juliet - Emily Blunt
Nanette - Ashley Jensen
Lord Redbrick - Michael Caine
Benny - Matt Lucas
Featherstone - Jim Cummings
Lady Bluebury - Maggie Smith
Tybalt - Jason StathamWith: Ozzy Osbourne, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Hulk Hogan, Dolly Parton.

More Film

  • DF-10689_R2_CROP – Sophie Turner and Jessica

    'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' Set for June 6 China Release

    “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” will officially swoop into Chinese theaters June 6, a day before its U.S. release, 20th Century Fox said Thursday. The studio had put out a trailer last fall that touted a Feb. 14 release date for the new X-Men installment, but said a day later that the premiere had been pushed back [...]

  • 'The Apollo' Review: A Legendary Theater

    Tribeca Film Review: 'The Apollo'

    You should never take for granted a documentary that fills in the basics with flair and feeling. Especially when the basics consist of great big gobs of some of the most revolutionary and exhilarating popular art ever created in this country. Roger Ross Williams’ documentary “The Apollo,” which kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival on [...]

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content