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Film review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

January 17, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

My belated round-up of 2011 continues with the film that my three-and-a-half year old son is currently watching at least once a day.

Gnomeo & Juliet 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet
(Kelly Asbury, 2011)

Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Well, much of Shakespeare is here – but as you’d expect, garden-based punnery takes precedence over scholarly fidelity to the Bard

Has any Shakespeare play been filmed as often as Romeo & Juliet? Doubtful, but it’s probably never been seen quite like this. The Bard’s age-old tale of tragic teenage love doesn’t obviously lend itself to kid-friendly CG animation – what do you do with that ending, for starters? – but if you’re not afraid to see the details changed to make them fit-for-purpose, it’s fascinating how adaptable the central premise is.

This is one of those films where a pun in the title pretty much establishes everything that follows – in much the same way, incidentally, as horror movie Tromeo & Juliet. But at least it’s a solid idea, allowing the rivalry between Montagues and Capulets to be contained into two neighbouring gardens, whose water features and pride-of-place plant life become the targets for a tit-for-tat cycle of vandalism. And, of course, the inherent tradition of the feud is given overt symbolism by the fact that gnomes are locked into pre-ordained forms, in this case the fact that one ‘family’ is painted blue and the other red.

What follows hits all the plot beats – the accidental meeting, the attack on Mercutio (here conflated with Benvolio, renamed Benny and played by Matt Lucas), the mistaken belief that one of the lovers is dead – but plays fast and loose enough to have a third act that revolves around an extreme lawn mower voiced by Hulk Hogan. The pleasure, as so often in these films, is in the incidental jokes, with nods to lines and characters from across the Bard’s canon. A removal firm, naturally, is called Rosencrantz and Guildernstern. In ten years’ time, the target audience is going to study Shakespeare for real and be shocked at how much they know, although in many respects they will also be utterly confused.

Otherwise it is business as usual for the genre, with Shrek 2 director Kelly Asbury’s attitude being that of a gnome: fixed and unyielding. So there are movie homages, a star cast and a pop soundtrack, the only distinction provided by how British this is. Today’s Britflick A-listers James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are nicely counterpointed by Michael Caine and Maggie Smith as their respective parents, while everything else fleshed out by alumni from telly comedy and the casting director’s Rolodex. (Future pub quiz question: which Shakespeare film stars Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne?) And producer Elton John makes his mark felt with the songs – and the leitmotifs of the score – all recognisable from his back catalogue. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Bernie Taupin isn’t a producer, and his lyrics have been gnominated for some distracting changes.

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