4 stars out of 5
The Stars: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Julie Walters, Richard Wilson, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Caine, Jim Cummings, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant.
The Story: Two households (in this case, four) both alike in dignity, along fair Verona Drive is where we kickstart our opening scene. Neighbours and duplex owners Miss Montague (Walters) and Mr Capulet (Wilson) simply cannot see eye to eye. Their antagonism towards each other naturally translate to their garden gnomes, who unbeknownst to them, are alive, have adopted their last names and bide time by striving to achieve the loveliest garden. While on their respective clandestine escapades, the young, star-crossed lovers - blue hatted Gnomeo Montague (McAvoy) and crimson topped Juliet Capulet (Blunt), meet and fall madly in love. Alas, his doting mother (Smith) and her over-protective father (Caine) will never approve of such a union. With help from Juliet’s frog nanny, Nanette (Jensen) and a synthetic flamingo, Featherson (Cummings), the ill-fated couple goes to great lengths to keep their affection a secret. But the conniving Tybalt (Statham) has other plans up his sleeve.
The Buzz: Directedby Kelly Asbury of Shrek 2 fame with a screenplay inspired by William Shakespeare’s infamous Romeo and Juliet, the animated feature (like its star-crossed namesakes) suffered a turbulent production process. Initially written by John R.Smith and Rob Sprackling, Walt Disney was set to produce the project until cancellation following John Lasseter’s acquisition. The film was then picked up by Miramax Films but the division shut down. It was eventually released under Touchstone Pictures, and accompanied by a final script worked on by 9 different writers.
inSing.com thinks: Judging by its title and synopsis, Gnomeo and Juliet doesn’t sound terribly exciting or creative – it’s story which has been cinematically beaten to death by the Baz Luhrmanns and George Cukors of the world. Fortunately, Asbury keeps a pleasant, brisk pace and sidesteps any preconceptions with sprinkles of British wit.
Gnomeo and Juliet’s basic plotline is a rather banal reflection of the Bard’s famed work. By pilfering only necessary elements from the play, it dispenses with pretentious notions of reinventing a classic tale, choosing instead to toy with the original material. A handful of Commando, American Beauty and The Godfather references might sail past the kids’ heads, but older audiences will find great delight in spotting their favourite movie scenes in gnome technicolour. On the visual front, the film quite perfectly captures the kitschiness and porcelain-crafted delicacy of garden gnomes. Movement is even further enhanced by a very realistic sound design of clinks.
What really makes the animation tick is its impressive line-up of wonderfully cast actors. McAvoy turns up much of his English charm to grand effect as Gnomeo. The ever- understated Blunt, sounding markedly more endearing and comfortable in her natural British accent, lends magnificent candour to the spirited Juliet. Jensen and Cummings are similarly enchanting as the token side-kicks, making their misdemeanors a riot to experience.
Sadly, the animated feature’s weakest link is also its purported selling point; Elton John completely cloaks the soundtrack with a slew of his greatest hits – which is fine in moderation, but like a drill to the ears when in large doses. Some of the movie’s musical sequences also come across a tad dated, especially when compared to glossier affairs of late like Toy Story 3 and Tangled.
Despite dubious pre-production issues, Gnomeo and Juliet surprises with a simple yet brilliant premise. And is testament to the fact that you don’t need to be part of any latest, greatest franchise to rock.