“Romeo & Juliet” is arguably the best known of Shakespeare’s plays. Certainly it is his most loved romance and is one of the most filmed plays of all time. Among the modern versions of the two young “star-cross’d lovers” are a classic big screen MGM adaptation starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, the musical “West Side Story” and an anime rendering about two rival ninja clans fighting each other. Perhaps the strangest reimagining of the story, however, hits screens this weekend. As the title suggests, “Gnomeo & Juliet” replaces the human protagonists with garden gnomes. That’s not gnormal but then again, this isn’t your garden variety kid’s flick.
Set on Verona Drive, the movie takes place in the back gardens of feuding neighbors Mr. Montague and Mrs. Capulet. Their dispute isn’t the only grudge on the block however. While they are away at work or asleep at night their garden gnomes come to life and do battle. Divided into red and blue gardens, every night the gnomes kick some grass in an effort to sabotage one another. The whole situation comes to a head when Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) fall hopelessly in love after a chance encounter.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” isn’t a strict translation of Bill Shakespeare’s play. In other words, and this is not a spoiler, it doesn’t end in gnomacide. Other than that the themes of the original are in place—like the forcefulness of love, love as a cause of violence and the individual versus society—but that’s for eggheads and this is for kids. In the movie the high-falutin’ themes have been winnowed down to nice teachable moments for the tots about tolerance and not judging a book by it’s cover, or in this case, a gnome by the color of their hat.
Parents will likely get a kick out of the nods to classic movies—there’s the chariot race from “Ben Hur,” the bucket scene from “Flashdance” and “American Beauty’s” bed of roses to name a few—and the equally classic Elton John song (he’s a producer on this along with his husband David Furnish) but overall this is pitched at young children.
The best thing about “Gnomeo & Juliet” is the animation. Each of the colorful gnomes has a distinct personality and the animators have carefully recreated the weathered ceramic look of real garden gnomes.
The downside is kind of dull voice work—surprising because the cast is a who’s who, including Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Ozzy Osbourne and even duller 3D. But despite the lack of really memorable voices the story carries the day to create a fun family-friendly film.