Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
February 2011


'Gnomeo and Juliet' is about Shakespeare via garden gnomes . . . and that should tell you all you need to know

Gnomeo & Juliet
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Kelly Asbury
Screenplay: Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley, Steve Hamilton Shaw, John R. Smith and Rob Sprackling, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Starring: The voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Maggie Smith, Jim Cummings and Patrick Stewart
Rated G / 1 hour, 24 minutes
(out of four)

For the life of me, I can't figure out how the basic idea of Gnomeo & Juliet hasn't already wound up on Robot Chicken yet - or any other Adult Swim show, for that matter. This is the kind of idea that could only possibly be the result of a stoned late-night writers' room session - and the kind of idea that could only possibly work as a complete and utter farce.

But no. Someone decided to use it as the springboard for a full-length animated feature.

About computer-animated garden gnomes.

Computer-animated garden gnomes playing modernized versions of Romeo & Juliet characters.

Computer-animated garden gnomes playing modernized versions of Romeo & Juliet characters while living in the back gardens of the feuding neighbors Mr. Capulet and Mrs. Montague. This is an actual movie.

I am now anticipating an entire series of figurine-based Shakespeare adaptations. King Lear, starring the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. Twelfth Night, featuring Beanie Babies. Macbeth, with those terrifying bright-haired troll dolls. Yes, I see a veritable cottage industry here.

But I digress. But, wait, not before mentioning the discovery that garden gnomes apparently love singing Elton John songs while acting out Shakespeare. Now you know. You can thank me later.

The story should be familiar, of course. Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) is a member of the "blue" garden and finds his way to the neighboring "red" garden while trying to play a prank to get back at his rival, Tybalt (Jason Statham).

(Yes, Jason Statham is playing an animated garden gnome called Tybalt.)

His plans turn out disastrously . . . but not so disastrously that he can't fall in love with Juliet (Emily Blunt), whom he is of course forbidden to fall in love with, or even speak to. Now, it goes without saying that the two lovebirds will have to have sidekicks who can give them advice and provide bad comic relief. Juliet's is Nanette (Ashley Jensen, of Extras), a ditzy garden frog; Gnomeo's is a hopping ceramic mushroom that can't speak. The mushroom plays the Lassie role, if you get my meaning.

And Gnomeo and Juliet are eventually accompanied by a lonely, lovesick lawn flamingo long since cast aside by a former owner and dumped in a shed. The flamingo's name is Featherstone (Jim Cummings), and I'll let you guess whether or not he saves the day at some point.

Eventually, tensions between the blue gnomes and the red gnomes begin to bubble over, and our two star-crossed lovers - who, I should mention once more, are computer-animated garden gnomes - are caught in the middle of it.

What director/co-writer Kelly Asbury seems to be trying to pull off is a Toy Story sort of thing - and indeed there are a couple of funny moments when the gnomes are in danger of being discovered by humans, and have to freeze in place so no one will suspect a thing. So let's give the film credit for attempting to use its central premise in a deliberately funny and self-conscious way - at least in a few isolated instances.

But when it really comes down to it, Gnomeo & Juliet offers little justification for the central premise as a whole. Using gnomes to do Shakespeare is a strange idea - and that seems to be the entire justification. "Hey, no one's ever done that before - let's try it!" But the filmmakers don't really figure out a way to use their initial idea in any specific way. They haven't figured out a reason why that idea might be funny or useful. I could right now decide to do an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice using, say, superhero action figures, and my half-baked concept would be just as fleshed-out as the half-baked concept of this movie.

I suppose there's no reason you couldn't do Gnome Shakespeare - but those behind this film never answer the most basic question: Why would you?

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