By now, I think most of us can agree that Pixar is the gold standard for animated movies. Sure, you have your occasional How to Train Your Dragon, but by and large, this is Pixar’s world, and we’re just (happily) along for the ride.
So… it was only a matter of time before other studios thought to take a Pixar formula and run with it. It’s a no-brainer move– the question is whether they could pull it off. Well, the ‘other studio’ in the case of Gnomeo & Juliet is none other Pixar parent Disney (via Touchstone Pictures), so if anyone could do it, you’d think they could.
And while Gnomeo & Juliet at times feels like a so-so rip-off of Toy Story (by way of Shakespeare), by and large it actually works… that is, if you can get past the rather odd choice of subject matter. Picture, if you will, the pitch meeting: “How about we make Romeo and Juliet into a kids movie… with garden gnomes!” Indeed, telling the most tragic love story ever told through the eyes of tacky lawn ornaments, may seem crazy, but kudos to Disney for doing an okay job pulling it off.
Instead of Verona, the action here takes place in adjacent British homes. Old Lady Capulet is evidently enamored with the color red, while Mean Mr. Montague is more of a ‘blue’ guy. (One can assume this is solely so the kids in the audience can quickly tell the difference between the two rival ‘houses’.) But, as with Toy Story, the humans play an extremely limited role here. The real action takes place in the backyard, where the gnomes come to life as soon as real-people eyes aren’t watching.
Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) is a bit of a wild child, always looking to race lawnmowers against his red rival Tybalt. One night, as he’s attempting a little sabotage, he finds himself in a neighboring backyard. Turns out, Juliet (Emily Blunt) has ventured over to the same yard to retrieve a particularly pretty flower for the red garden. Then, to the (rather catchy) strains of Elton John and Lady Gaga’s ‘Hello Hello’, the two gnomes meet and fall in love.
Of course, the age-old Shakespearean stumbling blocks are in the way, so the two have to keep their love secret, lest they start a backyard brawl the likes of which Gnome-dom has never seen.
Director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) has put together a pretty hip take on the Romeo and Juliet, fusing classic Shakespeare with pop culture (everything from American Beauty to The Matrix is skewered). Asbury also had a hand in the script, which relies heavily on (mostly) groan-inducing puns of Shakespeare’s more quotable quotes. And while the animation isn’t up to “today’s” standard, there’s enough fun, sight gags, and bright colors to keep kids entertained.
Pixar has no need to look over his shoulder anytime soon, but Gnomeo & Juliet is cute where it needs to be and witty enough for adults to have a few chuckles. Sometimes, that’s enough.
P.S. Hopefully you like Elton John– whose Rocket Pictures produced Gnomeo. Close to a dozen of his songs are interspersed throughout the festivities. That’s a lot of Elton John songs.