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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Alexander Skarsgard in the front rowGiorgio

    Film News Roundup: Alexander Skarsgard Joins 'Passing' With Tessa Thompson

    In today’s film news roundup, Taryn Manning, Shane West and Alexander Skarsgård have new roles, and Warner Bros. unveils a modernized logo. CASTINGS Alexander Skarsgård has signed on to join Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and André Holland in “Passing.” The film marks Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut and is based on a screenplay that Hall adapted [...]

  • Spike Lee

    Spike Lee to Direct Hip-Hop Love Story 'Prince of Cats'

    Spike Lee will direct a big-screen version of the hip-hop love story “Prince of Cats,” based on Ron Wimberly’s graphic novel. Legendary has been developing the project with Janet and Kate Zucker of Zucker Productions. Lee, who won the Academy Award for adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman,” will also re-write the “Prince of Cats” script with [...]

  • DOLEMITE IS MY NAME!, 2019, DOL_Unit_06284.RAF

    'Dolemite Is My Name' Writer Larry Karaszewski Recalls 10-Year Journey to Make Rudy Ray Moore Biopic

    “Harriet” writer-director Kasi Lemmons was in a reflective mood at Tuesday night’s “Behind the Scene” event at the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, sponsored by the Writers Guild of America West. The biopic, starring Cynthia Erivo as slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, has been receiving buzz since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s Lemmons’ [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Abrams Artists Agency Signs Writers Guild Deal

    In a major triumph for the Writers Guild of America, the Abrams Artists Agency has signed the WGA’s Code of Conduct, allowing the agency to return to representing WGA members again. Chairman Adam Bold made the announcement Wednesday, saying that the agency wants to put its clients back to work. He also noted WGA West [...]

  • Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis

    Holocaust Experts Debate 'Jojo Rabbit' at Museum of Tolerance Screening

    With its comedic, cartoonish portrayal of Nazis, Taika Waititi’s satirical Hitler youth tale “Jojo Rabbit” has polarized critics and audiences alike. And that division continued to be stirred at Tuesday night’s screening of the film at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, where Liebe Geft, director of the museum, moderated a heated panel discussion [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content