An animation that's been in the works for some time (Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet were once going to voice the title characters) and has a staggering nine writers listed on IMDb (ten, if you take into account William Shakespeare's play), Gnomeo & Juliet appears to have come from the find-a-title-and-work-backwards school of thinking. Gone is the Verona setting and feuding families and in their place is an English suburban garden backdrop inhabited by talking ceramics with fierce loyalties to their respective owners. It may sound rickety but there's a quirky appeal to Gnomeo & Juliet, notably in its eccentric characters and use of Elton John's best songs on the soundtrack.
In truth the movie almost works as an Elton musical, as hits like 'Your Song', 'Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting' and 'Crocodile Rock' are weaved into the score by composers Chris Bacon and James Newton Howard. John and partner David Furnish are producers and appear to have called in a few favours by getting their celeb chums to do the voice work (Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Ozzy Osbourne). Director Kelly Asbury adeptly conjures up a sweet romance between the star-crossed pair Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt). Blunt is particularly feisty as the girl gently rebelling against her well-meaning but overprotective father Lord Redbrick (Caine). And props to whichever of the nine hacks gave her the line "Ooh, my giddy aunt!"
The smart blend of comedy and tragedy - and the power of all-encompassing love - has kept Shakespeare's play relevant and compelling through various screen adaptations. It's here that this 3D animation falls short as the wackiness tips overboard and undermines the darker elements of the tale. Whereas directors Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann stuck to the text, here some licence is taken in the finale. An encounter between Gnomeo and a bronze William Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart bringing gravitas with a capital 'G') appears to instigate this switch, yet the filmmakers may have benefited from being a little more daring and not sugar-coating things.
Though it lacks the polished visual sheen and storytelling finesse of a Pixar offering, Gnomeo & Juliet does feature some cleverly choreographed sequences - the highlight being a night time pursuit of an orchid by the eponymous characters in their first meeting. Extras pair Stephen Merchant (as bespectacled gnome Paris) and Ashley Jensen (frog Nanette) also have a memorable moment that spoofs the Mena Suvari in a bed of roses fantasy from American Beauty and sees a cameo (of sorts) from Elton.
Boasting plenty of chuckles and a bubbly charm, there's a lot to admire about this kid's toon. It's not even close to being the definitive movie version of Shakespeare's play, but powered by the pop soundtrack and an eclectic mix of voice talent (Ozzy as a deer!), it's a fun reworking of a familiar tale.
> What do you think of the movie? Share your views