Shakespeare’s plays have been told in many forms, in particular Romeo and Juliet which Baz Luhrmann brought to vivid life in 1996 with Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes embodying the titular characters for a generation of film fans. Then the tragedy was relocated to Verona to give it zest while retaining the original dialogue, for this very British production the twist on the famous tale is the warring Capulets and Montagues are gnomes living in rival gardens next door to each other. With producers including David Furnish and Elton John its got plenty of stars behind the animated adventure, however there’s very little life in it beyond the child-friendly introduction to the work of William Shakespeare.
The bright colours and imaginary world of gnomes will entertain the very young.
Gnomeo & Juliet is awash with famous stars. The foppish James McAvoy takes on the role of Gnomeo while English rose Emily blunt is Juliet. In a nod to British sitcom, Richard Wilson takes a human role akin to his famed Victor Meldrew character as garden owner Mr Capulet while Julie Walters takes the opposing role as neighbour and rival gardener Miss Montague. Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart and, ah, Hulk Hogan form the bulk of the roles to ensure familiar voices throughout. What a shame McAvoy makes such a lousy lead – his chirpy delivery rarely changes as Gnomeo, a spirited gnome from Mr Montague’s garden who shares a blue hat with that of his fellow gnomes. He struggles to give Gnomeo any character which is a pity as Blunt is far more successful in bringing Juliet of the red-hatted gnomes to life. As a result there’s little in the way of emotional pull, a major failing in a rendition of Romeo and Juliet, so it is left to the other stars to give the film character though they generally perform to type with Merchant and awkward and gangly gnome while Statham plays the gnome wanting to rough Gnomeo up with his usual gruff voice issuing threats.
The bright colours and imaginary world of gnomes will entertain the very young, however it’s unlikely anyone older than 11 will be enthralled even with the promise of a 3-D version. The action is sporadic and based around lawn mower racing which if given a second to think about leaves gaping holes in the logic of how the gnomes mask their abilities to move and talk from humans. Indeed, the whole set up has nods to Toy Story, a franchise that succeeds in being entertaining to children and adults alike. When Patrick Stewart’s warming tones sound as a statue of Shakespeare late on, the discussion of the original play is far less sly than the writers thought. Still, Gnomeo & Juliet does no harm in itself, it’s just best suited to viewing at home on a Sunday afternoon on the small screen where its quaintness seems more appropriate than shooting for box office glory.