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

  • BAFTA Backs BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training for

    BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training Rolls Out to BAFTA Voters, Wider Industry (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British Independent Film Awards is opening up its unconscious-bias training to BAFTA voters and, more widely, to anyone who judges the work of others in the film and TV business in the U.K. With the makeup of award-nominee and -winner lists under close scrutiny, BIFA introduced its unconscious-bias training last year. Its voters, jurors, [...]

  • Instinct

    Carice van Houten's 'Instinct' Picked Up By Films Boutique (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based international sales agent Films Boutique has picked up psychological thriller “Instinct,” starring Carice van Houten, who received an Emmy nomination Tuesday for “Game of Thrones,” and Marwan Kenzari, recently seen in Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin.” “Instinct” has its world premiere on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival next month. “Instinct,” the directorial debut [...]

  • If Only - Ginevra Elkann

    Locarno Announces Edgy Mix of Premieres, Joseph Gordon-Levitt Thriller '7500'

    Italian director Ginevra Elkann’s directorial debut, “If Only,” about kids with divorced parents, will open the 72nd Locarno Film Festival, its first edition under new artistic director Lili Hinstin, who has assembled an edgy mix of promising titles from young auteurs and more established names. “If Only” and the fest closer, iconic Japanese director Kiyoshi [...]

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up fromchief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software and technology [...]

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content