Not many writers continue to have their work celebrated centuries after their deaths, but its nothing new for William Shakespeare. Over the years, we’ve seen countless remakes, modernizations and spinoffs of the Bard’s stories.
It should therefore come as no surprise that a clever group of filmmakers has decided to serve up an animated take on what is perhaps his most famous work: “Romeo and Juliet.” What is more surprising is that said filmmakers, led by co-writer and director Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”), decided to tell the story through the eyes of plaster garden gnomes. It’s a clever premise, but the translation falls short in large part because Asbury has removed all things heartbreaking from a play that is, first and foremost, a tragedy.
The movie is set in England, where two neighbors with immaculate gardens are harboring an ongoing feud. On one side we have a gentleman named Capulet who populates his spectacular yard with gnomes that favor red clothing. On the other side, is a woman named Montague who goes for blue. Their quarrels, of course, extend to their gardens, where the Montague and Capulet gnomes have long bullied one another. Then, young Gnomeo Montague happens upon the impetuous Juliet Capulet and sparks fly.
The animation is brilliant, and the gnomes and other garden denizens are beautifully rendered. Sadly, the visuals are diminished by the fact that the story never takes off. The plotting will be so familiar to anyone who has read or seen “Romeo and Juliet” that surprises are scarce, yet Asbury and company altered many of the darkest and most compelling moments in the story. They do maintain the death of a high-profile Capulet, but even his tragic undoing is downplayed. And the well-known ending has, of course, been turned family friendly.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” also features a soundtrack by pop star Elton John. Although there’s no debating the quality of his tunes, the use of such well-known songs as “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” seem forced. In other words, the songs don’t serve the story so much as the story seems designed to serve the songs.
DVD extras are limited to a music video and a couple making-of featurettes. The Blu-ray releases include those features plus two alternate endings, a collection of deleted and alternate scenes and a bit about Ozzy Osbourne, who did some voice work for the film.
— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic. Read more of his work at ForrestHartman.com.