GNOMEO & JULIET
Gnomeo & Juliet comes from Rocket Pictures, a British production company formed by singer Elton John and his husband David Furnish. Rocket Pictures has produced three live-action films previously, including the bodyswap comedy Its a Boy Girl Thing (2006), but Gnomeo & Juliet is their most high-profile release to date. Gnomeo & Juliet was originally a project that was started at Disney but ended up being dumped during the 2006 studio reshuffle. The director is Kelly Asbury who had previously co-directed DreamWorks Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) and Shrek 2 (2004).
Once you get past the outlandish premise, Gnomeo & Juliet conducts an amiably likeable run through of the modern animated film formula. The emphasis is placed on humour and comedic slapstick capers running around the garden. These eventually come to dominate many of the basics of the play. Every other version of Romeo and Juliet, for instance, places the emphasis on the romance between the star-crossed lovers, whereas here the romantic element is rather perfunctory, which may well be more due to the films pitching Shakespeare down to a young demographic. Mindedly, Shakespeare may well have some difficulty recognising his play, which has now been retooled to include the rival families engaged in races on lawnmowers; the Nanny recast as a ceramic frog ornament that squirts a stream of water from her mouth; the friar being played by a talking pink lawn flamingo with a funny accent; and a climax wherein both gardens are razed by an evil artificially intelligent lawnmower known as the Terraferminator (voiced by no less than former wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan).
The film also comes packed with numerous Shakespearean in-jokes. It takes place in contemporary Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeares birthplace; a shattered gnome is put together with a brand of glue known as The Taming of the Glue; there is a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern moving firm; Gnomeo is carried away by a van for Tempest Teapots (ie. a storm in a teacup pun) and so on. Various lines of classic Shakespearean dialogue (not just from Romeo and Juliet) make sporadic appearances throughout. There does seem a certain incongruity in adapting Romeo and Juliet as an animated film for children as the original is a tragedy that ends with the two lovers dying by their own hand due to melodramatic miscommunication. Realizing that such a downer of an ending would never do in a childrens film, Gnomeo & Juliet is sufficiently postmodern to have Gnomeo sitting atop a talking bronze statue of Shakespeare and arguing with The Bard in favour of rewriting the traditional tragic outcome for a happy ending. Various of Elton Johns classic songs have been used to punctuate sections of the film, although sometimes in ways that completely distort the original song for example, Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting (1973), a song originally about drunken barroom brawling, now becomes a theme for the lawnmower races.
Gnomeo & Juliet emerges with sufficiently good humour, a likeable range of characters and tongue sufficiently placed in cheek so that everything does not topple over into the irritatingly self-conscious cutsieness of other recent animated films. It proves amiable fun and one could certainly think of far worse time wasters.