Some films pop out at you as "must see" movies and others fly under the radar. Gnomeo and Juliet was one of those 'under the radar' films for me; but at the request of a 7-year-old that doesn't often ask to go see anything at the theater, we thought we'd give it a go.
As the name suggests "Gnomeo and Juliet" is a riff on William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" -- with garden gnomes. I swear I'm not making that up. The gnomes in this story inhabit the gardens of two feuding neighbors (the Montagues and the Capulets naturally) and are divided into the "reds" (Capulets) and the "blues" (Montagues). The feud fought among the gnomes mostly takes the form of garden sabotage and lawn mower races.
Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is the son of Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), the head of the blue gnomes. After losing a lawnmower race to Tybalt (Jason Statham), the champion of the red gnomes, Gnomeo plans a late-night excursion into the neighboring yard for some midnight vandalism. In the course of his travels he runs into Juliet (Emily Blunt), the overprotected daughter of Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), the head of the red gnomes. Neither Gnomeo or Juliet initially know that they come from opposing families and it doesn't take long for their verbal sparring to turn into an attraction that allows them to mostly overlook their familial affiliations.
Despite being based on a Shakespearian tragedy "Gnomeo and Juliet" is a pure kid's film and we're told right from the start not to expect the traditional ending; though I'm not sure anyone would have expected that anyway. But that's not the only thing that's kind of different (strange?) about "Gnomeo and Juliet." I suppose it was intended to be a cute, Valentine's Day themed film aimed at a crossover audience of kids and adults, but the notion of centering a story around garden gnomes is hard to understand beyond the cutesy play on the name of a main character. Let me put it this way-- we weren't five minutes into the film before I was trying to explain to my kids what a gnome is. The only one they had ever seen were from the Travelocity commercials. But I digress. Additionally, the gnomes didn't end up being as unique as one might think after seeing three installments of "Toy Story;" the only real difference is that the gnomes are significantly more breakable.
But the real problem with "Gnomeo and Juliet" is that it's not made by Pixar or Disney. There's just no competing with those two giants of animated film. It's not that "Gnomeo and Juliet" is a bad movie-- it's not. But it just doesn't have the oomph of the powerhouses put out by the other studios. It doesn't have the original music, instead relying on a soundtrack that heavily features Elton John (of course it includes "Don't Go Breaking My Heart") with a version of "Hello Hello" sung by Elton John and Lady Gaga that didn't really stand out enough to be remarked upon. Another obviously lacking ingredient is the amazing visuals we've become so used to, and spoiled by, in recent years. It's colorful and well done, but I wasn't dazzled.
Mostly "Gnomeo and Juliet" is a pretty standard kids' film that features all the requisite ingredients: lots of quick banter; many recognizable voices (Ozzy Osbourn is surprisingly intelligible and fun in this); some minor cliff-hangers; some sentimental moments; and the expected moral lessons about getting along. Overall it's a nice movie that doesn't stand out in any way. The famous voices added to the film don't add as much dimension as one would hope. Perhaps "Gnomeo and Juliet" suffers because it has the poor fortune of being compared to "Tangled" since that was the last movie I saw in the theater, but I suspect that it would be forgettable against any of the major animated releases. It's a likable movie, but one that can definitely wait to be watched at home.