Shakespeare with garden gnomes... and Ozzy Osbourne
When they’re not relentlessly block voting The King’s Speech to never ending awards glory, weary old film critics can often be heard bemoaning that cinema has run out of ideas. I can’t help thinking Gnomeo and Juliet is a rake in the eye to said naysayers. Shakespearian tales retold with garden furniture? I’ll take that over 3D any day of the week. It’ll pass the time until Michael Bay remakes Annie at least.
Unless you’re thick, you will have deduced from the title that, give or take some lawnmower racing, this is Romeo and Juliet done with garden gnomes. It’s directed by Kelly Asbury, who as well as Shrek 2 made the impressive Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron in 2002. Elton John pillages his back catalogue for the soundtrack, while there’s an impressive voice cast too: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne as a plastic deer – perhaps best of all, everyone’s favourite Rottweiler/peanut hybrid, Jason Statham. Stick around to the end and Lady Gaga turns up too.
Chances are you probably will stick around to the end, yet at times, especially if you’re older than four, it will be a struggle. That’s not to say Gnomeo and Juliet is a bad film. It isn’t. From what I remember of being four, it’s perfectly pitched to its audience. But it doesn’t have the universal appeal that Toy Story or the aforementioned Shrek had. Which is strange given its cast of players. Show Ozzy Osbourne to a four year old and they will cry. Show them Elton John and they will laugh at his lopsided wig, which is disrespectful to the man who wrote Tiny Dancer, sure, but I’m not going to take issue with a four-year-old.
Much of the problem is that the script is as poor as the animation is impressive. Poor scripts aren’t normally an issue when it comes to Shakespeare I’ll level with you, but the writer’s distillation of the Bard’s play’s key (pretty tragic) themes come scattershot via the form of slapstick and base level mirth. This isn’t good enough: post Pixar the bar for cartoon features has been raised forever, while the fact that The Simpsons and Family Guy are routinely the funniest things on television is proof that animation can speak to two audiences simultatiously if it’s done smartly. Gnomeo and Juliet is close to being a great film. It’s charming and it’s fun. But it’s never smart. Moreover, it’s a shame it’s so content not to ever stretch its reach.