With the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham. Directed by Kelly Asbury. Rated G. 84 minutes.
GNOMEO AND JULIET is a cartoon version of “Romeo and Juliet” in which the warring families are garden gnomes. Where DO they come up with these ideas? Oddly, though, the filmmakers fully acknowledge how utterly silly their concept is and the result is a playful movie that is much more entertaining than it has any right to be.
The premise is that we’re in a modern day English suburb and the Montagues and Capulets are next-door neighbors. One garden is decorated with blue-capped gnomes, while the other’s gnomes are red-capped. Naturally Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) falls for Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt), even though their families are bitter rivals. Just as naturally, because this is a G-rated cartoon, we know the story is going to turn out very differently.
It is in acknowledging such silliness that the film wins us over. At one point Gnomeo finds himself in a park interacting with a statue of William Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart), who tells him how the play ends – with the double suicide of the young lovers. The film actually derives several gags out of the difference between Shakespeare and this cartoon.
Although the filmmakers owe more than a little debt to “Toy Story” films – particularly in the way the gnomes all “freeze” when a human appears on the scene – they exhibit their own inventiveness as well. The dialogue is filled with puns and sly references, including a character referring to a perambulatory mushroom as a “fun guy” (think about it). There’s also the subplot of the gnomes racing lawn mowers so that one side has to get the ultimate lawn mower known as the “TerraFirmanator” with none other than Hulk Hogan providing the voice for the website where it is ordered.
No doubt some curmudgeonly critics will heap abuse on this film because they don’t fully appreciate its genre. This is not an animated adaptation of a literary classic nor is it an arch satire that adults should seek out on their own. This is that rarest of all movies these days, the “family film,” which means if you have to take your kids to see it, they will enjoy the antics of the garden gnomes while the accompanying adults will find different pleasures. These include not only the jokes and references (a moving van operated by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), but also a surprising voice cast that includes Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne and Dolly Parton.
What’s clear is that the makers of “Gnomeo and Juliet” had no pretensions that they were creating art, expanding the boundaries of animation, or masterfully reinterpreting Shakespeare. Instead they seem to be saying, “This is a very silly movie and we had a lot of fun making it. We want you to have a lot of fun, too.” If you haven’t forgotten what’s it’s like to be silly, you will probably find that groove, as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.