Gnomeo & Juliet
Release Date: February 17
Gnomeo & Juliet is one of those films that is sure to split the family, but almost certain to get everyone into the cinema in the end.
This Touchstone Pictures production takes every opportunity to ape the classic Shakespeare love-story for which it’s named, though in this case the tragedy is set in the opposing yards of two clans of garden gnomes, rather than the fair streets of Verona.
Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a lawn-mower racing ruffian who is the young heir of the blue gnome family. Juliet (Emily Blunt) is a plaster-of-paris power woman who refuses to remain on her pedestal in the middle of the red gnome family’s yard. They’re backed up on either side with the rest of Shakespeare’s cast voiced by a bevy of British talent including Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne and Patrick Stewart. For all that, though, adults will find the plot hard going.
To begin with Gnomeo & Juliet slavishly follows the direction of Will’s original in all but one very important respect. I will leave it to you to imagine how Disney would have chosen to end Shakespeare’s timeless play if it had a hand in its writing – you won’t be far off the mark.
Not satisfied with reworking Romeo & Juliet, the writers have stretched credibility to include every other famous line from the Bard’s quill. In between they crammed every conceivable line relating to Gnomes and their phallic hats, as well as a range of characters whose contributions rarely stretch beyond the kindergarten joke. And the cracks left over are devoted to showcasing a staggering number of Elton John classics as well as two originals compositions. Honestly, it’s as if the filmmakers were given their pick of anything the aging rocker had ever written and deliberately wrote extra scenes to cram in a couple more tracks.
Director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) has taken families back to the bad old days when parents used to sit up late at night drawing straws to see who would have to take the kids to the latest saccharin-sweet kids flick. But for all that, I expect Gnomeo & Juliet to be a big hit.
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Why? Because despite the tragic way in which this story has been adapted, I couldn’t help noticing the simplistic characters were ones my boys would talk about for months to come. The gnomes and their adventures are so well pitched towards the primary school age group that I fully expect my middle child to become as obsessed with lawnmowers as he is with superheroes. And Elton’s hits have been perfectly reworked to set little bodies jumping.
The tragedy behind this tragedy, though, is that Shakespeare’s original message won’t make it to the party. Children will learn nothing about the faults at the heart of humanity that make prejudice such a continuing problem. Love is so all conquering that even the bad guys get resurrected for the Shrek-style dance party at the end.
Yes, Gnomeo & Juliet will be a hit, but the only good it’s likely to achieve will be a revitalization of the garden decoration industry.