Jim Cummings, Ozzy Osbourne
- Rated G
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by David Medsker
t’s one of the most unoriginal movies to come down the pipe in a long time – it’s “Toy Story,” with gnomes, set to a Shakespearean tragedy with a “Shrek”-like sensibility – but “Gnomeo & Juliet” manages, just barely, to rise above these obstacles and carve out an identity of its own. In a rare surprise, the stunt casting actually works in the movie’s favor, and the soundtrack, which consists of Elton John songs old and new, is quite symphonic. With a nearly all-English cast, a Shakespearean play as the source material, and Elton John providing the tunes, it’s safe to say that the movie is unapologetically British, and that is probably the only reason why it works.
Set in a faceless English suburb, the owners of two row houses, named Montague and Capulet, dislike each other immensely, to the point where their lawn gnomes – and both of these people, God help them, have tons of them – hold the same grudge against each other. The independent Juliet (Emily Blunt), a “red,” leaves the yard to take a flower from a nearby greenhouse and meets cute with Gnomeo (James McAvoy), a “blue.” The two try to see each other in secret, but this proves to be difficult as the feud between the gnomes escalates, and even turns deadly.
The “Toy Story” thievery is pretty galling, really. The gnomes pop into position whenever humans are nearby (though they get a good laugh from this when two fighting gnomes are forced to strike a friendly pose), and there is even a “When She Loved Me” moment, where a plastic flamingo describes how he lost the love of his life. The movie also shares something with “Cars,” though it’s not a good thing: they assign organic traits to the characters. Gnomeo and Juliet have parents, which implies that the gnomes have the ability to procreate, which, of course, they don’t. Perhaps they did it in order to avoid completely ripping off “Toy Story,” but since this whole family thing raises more questions than it answers, they would have been better off avoiding it altogether.
Good thing, then, that the dialogue is light and clever, and they even throw in a couple of surprising movie references for the grown-ups, including the most disturbing “American Beauty” homage you’ll ever see. Several classic Elton John songs serve as refrains for the score, and they work remarkably well with the content, especially the spot-on use of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” Casting Jason Statham as a bully gnome and Ozzy Osbourne as a clueless deer was a nice touch, too.
Still, you can see why John Lasseter shut down “Gnomeo & Juliet,” originally a Disney production, when he took the reins following the merger with Pixar. He had to have been insulted that his new employers would steal from him so shamelessly. At the same time, “Toy Story” was a brilliant idea, and if there is one thing that Pixar has avoided in terms of the A story, it’s the tale of star crossed lovers (“WALL·E” excepted, of course). Pixar could have made this movie better, naturally, but by all rights, this movie should have turned out much worse than it did. Damning with faint praise? Perhaps, but we’re guessing the studio will take it, and gladly.