Two gardens, both alike in lack of dignity, in fair London suburbs, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge involving fights about broken garden accessories and who has the better flowers, break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean in Gnomeo & Juliet, in which a pair of star-cross’d lovers are rendered in gnome form.
You know the deal: Montagues, Capulets, forbidden love, “a boy like that, who’d kill your brother,” etc. The twist is that the characters are all ceramic garden gnomes who come to life when their human owners aren’t around. The Capulets have red hats, the Montagues have blue hats and the two groups take out their aggressions against each other by racing lawnmowers in the alley behind the homes. Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) is a girl desperate to prove to her father (Michael Caine) that she’s not as fragile as he thinks. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a boy trying to stick up for his mother (Maggie Smith) and the other blues. Both have their sidekicks — Gnomeo has a voiceless mushroom and scrappy Benny (Matt Lucas); Juliet has her nurse Nanette (Ashley Jensen), a ceramic frog. Together, Gnomeo and Juliet befriend a plastic flamingo named Featherstone (Jim Cummings).
The story plays out exactly as you think it will — with Tybalt (Jason Statham), questions about a gnome by any other name, some gags like the moving company named Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. Gnomeo has a conversation near the movie’s final act with a statue of William Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart), who tells him how his story ends, spurring Gnomeo to try for something happier. And there are cute cameos by a buxom, southern-tang-having gnome named Dolly (Dolly Parton), a Capulet-approved suitor-gnome Paris (Stephen Merchant), a gruff deer named Fawn (Ozzy Osbourne) and Terrafirminator, a “Sunday, SUNDAY, Sunday!”-voiced lawn mower played by Hulk Hogan.
The cast list is impressive. And the score, made up almost entirely of Elton John songs, is cute. And the opening scene, where a narrating gnome reads Shakespeare’s prologue, hints at some smart translation of the story. But the resulting sum of all these parts is tepid and pale, like a soggy lump of clay. The movie has so many opportunities to do something clever or original or smart but it never takes them. Instead we get the pratfalls you expect, the jokes you can see coming and the love story that never feels all that exciting.
Shakespeare with gnomes might not sound like a recipe for greatness, but then again Disney hit pay dirt by basically doing Hamlet with lions. The problem here is clearly not in the concept but in the execution.
Rated G. Directed by Kelly Asbury and written by Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley, Steve Hamilton Shaw and John R. Smith (from the William Shakespeare play), Gnomeo & Juliet is an hour and 24 minutes long and distributed by Touchstone Pictures.