Day 244. That means that it is once again Arbitrary Landmark Day! I am now precisely two thirds of the way through the year. With eight months gone, I only have to wait four more and then I can get some sleep. But in the mean time, join me as we explore a world rarely seen on the big screen. The world of garden gnomes singing Elton John songs…
Hulk Hogan (almost) does Shakespeare.
Mrs. Montague and Mr. Capulet live next-door to each other on Verona Drive. Each has a garden filled with various gnomes; coloured blue in the Montague garden, and red in the Capulet. When the humans are out of sight, the gnomes come alive and feud mercilessly. One night, on neutral ground, Gnomeo from the Montague garden and Juliet from the Capulet meet while each has disguised their colours, and fall in love. Actually, you should all know the basic story by now. Writing any more of a plot summary for Romeo and freaking Juliet is not only a waste of my time but an insult to your intelligence. Let’s just say that the ending is new, and leave it at that.
Despite its Texan director and Canadian animation studio, this CG animated combination of Shakespeare and Toy Story is the most conspicuously English flick I have watched in a good while, probably since Horrid Henry (and the less said about that the better). There’s just something about garden gnomes that just screams middle-class England, but in a reassuringly sedate way.
While Shakespeare’s play was a rather vicious satire on the ridiculous excess of obsessive first love, this version plays the young couple as the only sane people in the village, with all the other gnomes being full of the righteous anger of a blood feud; the kind of feud where nobody even remembers why it started in the first place. The script (by director Kelly Asbury and about seven others, including Andy “Bunny Suicides” Riley) still manages to play this for laughs though.
The cast is full of recognisable voices from the best and brightest of British thesping, led by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt as Gnomeo and Juliet. Blunt is one of the spikiest portrayals of Juliet yet seen, adding a layer of rebellion against the strictures of her station that usually gets lost under all the simpering. Gnomeo is a bit of an action man as well, since the character also includes aspects of Mercutio (who is missing from this adaptation).
The rest of the stars – including Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne, Maggie Smith and Hulk Hogan* – have all been cast to type to one degree or another, but they are all in on the self-referential joke. I also have to mention the presence of the greatest voice in acting: one scene features Gnomeo perched on the head of a statue of Shakespeare himself asking for advice, and when the Bard opens his mouth out come the mellifluous tones of the one and only Sir Patrick Stewart (making the scene a bit of an X-Men gag as well).
Considering his involvement as Executive Producer (via his company, Rocket Pictures) it will come as no surprise that most of the songs are by Elton John. And what great songs they are too: Crocodile Rock; Tiny Dancer; Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting… Hell, the soundtrack could almost double as a greatest hits album. The score is by James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight) who, as it turns out, started his career touring with Elton back in the seventies and eighties, so would have played on most of the featured songs back in the day. Little bit of trivia there for you. You’re welcome.
The flick was animated by Starz Animation Toronto, the studio who produced 9, and they have done a bang-up job on a relatively tiny budget of $36 million (compared to the reported $200 million it took to bring us Cars 2). The film looks really good, with loads of nice texture work on the ceramic gnomes and the foliage in the gardens.
While rarely if ever pants-wettingly hilarious, Gnomeo and Juliet is consistently amusing around a sweet core. I’ll admit I started this up with fairly low expectations but it is surprisingly good and solidly entertaining throughout. And if the box office take is any indication, it works outside Britain as well.
*Now there’s a cast list you never thought you’d see.