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GNOMEO AND JULIET, 2011
Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Jim Cummings, Stephen Merchant, Dolly Parton, Ozzy Ozbourne
Garden gnomes Gnomeo (voice of McAvoy) and Juliet (voice of Blunt) have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness?
Release Date: 11 February 2011
“For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene 3.
. . . unless you adapt an animated feature out of their tragedy by featuring garden gnomes and sprinkler frogs.
Kelly Asbury, the director of “Shrek 2”, deserves some educational credit for presenting Shakespeare’s timeless “Romeo and Juliet” as an animated feature so that children can enjoy its subject content, rather than despise it like we all did in third period.
The kids will be entertained by the animated anarchy celebrated by these characters. The parents will appreciate the fact that this all maintains some literary merit.
Remarkably, the movie follows the same story structure as “Romeo and Juliet”, with the exception of a much happier ending so that children will not have to exit the theater wailing and crying about suicidal gnomes.
Instead of two warring families in Verona, “Gnomeo” focuses on two embattled next-door neighbors living on a suburban road in England. But the feud between Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet is only a backdrop for the story’s central conflict: the ongoing war between their collections of garden furniture. Gnomeo (James McAvoy, whose animated interpretation of a garden gnome oddly resembles a lifelike Jude Law) is the romantic son of the blue gnome leader, Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith). For reasons unexplained, they are involved in a longstanding war with the red-hatted garden gnomes living next door.
In ways resembling the plot devices behind Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Gnomeo realizes his forbidden love for Juliet (Emily Blunt), daughter of Lord Redbrick (the omnipresent Michael Caine). They pursue an elusive courtship while enduring the arrogant and destructive behavior of their combative gnome civilizations.
The gnomes compete in lawnmower races with musical accompaniment by Elton John, who also served as executive producer. The Rocket Man’s music is all over the place in this feature. In fact, the art department even evoked Elton’s 1970’s image during a brief fantasy scene in which Juliet imagines her lover with thick extravagant sunglasses and bright-colored feathered clothing.
I’m not an expert on the sexual orientation of garden gnomes, but I suspect that Juliet’s eroticism could not be farther from the mark.
There are other imaginative characters besides the garden gnomes at work here. Ashley Jensen from “Extras” provides the voice for Nanette, a boisterous hose-throated garden frog on the Red side of the fence. Ozzy Osbourne portrays Fawn, a garden deer who is chief of security for the red gnomes. Parents will undoubtedly appreciate the subtle humor behind the fact that the Price of Darkness is embodied as a wannabe Bambi.
The lawn furniture in “Gnomeo & Juliet” exists under “Toy Story” guidelines. In the company of humans, they are cold and lifeless objects incapable of movement or emotion. Once removed from human observation, they are an energetic and playful civilization capable of love, pride, and loyalty.
Like “Toy Story”, there is no explanation for this situational reality. Why can’t these toys and gnomes co-exist with their human counterparts in a mutual understanding of each other’s cognitive awareness? What happens if a human catches a toy moving on its accord without electrical plug or battery? These hypothetical seem to be irrelevant in this universe of inanimate objects surviving in secrecy.
But unlike “Toy Story”, there is an obstacle facing the audience’s ability to relate to these characters. We can empathize with Andy’s toys regarding their individual insecurities partly because we had these sorts of toys ourselves. It is strange but undeniable that we can understand Sheriff Woody’s trepidation about being replaced by the superior Buzz Lightyear. We feel the pain behind the isolation and abandonment of these toys not just because these are very honest depictions of emotional trauma, but also because we are forced to remember our own personal histories with toys and games.
I have never owned a garden gnome, nor have I ever understood the ornamental appeal of one. No one in my family likes them and neither do any of my friends. Without this appreciation for decorative lawn furniture, it is nearly impossible to maintain any sensible empathy for these ceramic beings and their complicated relationships. In short, the gnomes aren’t doing it for me.
The story is at its strongest when it takes a detour from the war between Red and Blue to focus on the lonely existence of a Spanish-accented garden flamingo named Featherstone (Jim Cummings). The narrative behind Featherstone’s story may seem irrelevant to the central story at first, but it strengthens the movie’s overall theme that it is indeed more worthwhile to love than to fight. His origin story truly represents the tragedy behind Love Lost.
Another entertaining feature not to be missed in “Gnomeo” is the rewarding appearance of Patrick Stewart as a statue of William Shakespeare. He provides motivation for Gnomeo in the final act and adds specific clarity that this is not a story known for its happy ending. The effect is not only educational, but immensely funny.
GNOMEO AND JULIET