“For never was a story of more concrete set
Than this of Gnomeo and his Juliet.”
William Shakespeare, sorta
Gnomeo & Juliet is a happy, inventive little movie that draws a smiley face on Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Love’s Labour’s Found
The conceit of Gnomeo & Juliet is simple. It retells Shakespeare’s love story through concrete garden gnomes – and other lawn decorations – that come to life when the humans of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town, aren’t looking.
Read into it what you will, but the war between the Capulets and the Montagues has been boiled down to a bitter feud between blue-hatted gnomes and red-hatted gnomes. Who knows what started it at all, a bitter divorce perhaps, or simply the irritations of two curmudgeony old human neighbors, but the great divide of their differences is bridged when the star-crossed lovers of Gnomeo and Juliet run into each other while on their own individual stealth missions to make a name for themselves.
It’s not really giving too much away to say that this take on the tale has a much different, peppier ending than good ol’ Will’s, much to Will’s disappointment. The legendary chap makes a cameo (voiced by Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard of Star Trek fame, but more importantly a true Shakespearean actor) as Gnomeo tells his tale of woe.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Moving
There are many reasons to enjoy Gnomeo and Juliet.
For one thing, the voice cast is terrific. James McAvoy (Wanted) is Gnomeo opposite Emily Blunt’s (The Adjustment Bureau) Juliet. Throw in Jason Statham, the rugged star of action movies including The Transporter and The Expendables, who turns in some of his best work as the red-hatted heavy Tybalt; Michael Caine as Juliet’s protective father; and Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne, and Hulk Hogan in supporting roles, and the result is a aural hoot.
There’s also Elton John’s music. While there are two new songs, both written with John’s longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, Hello, Hello (a duet with John and Lady Gaga) and Love Builds a Garden, the movie leans heavily on John’s bountiful catalog of songs; classics like Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) and Crocodile Rock figure in prominently. But there’s also a very funny twist on Your Song, which demonstrates John’s generous sense of humor and willingness to retool his own material for a good joke. The great opening line “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside...” is replaced with “It’s a little bit runny, this pesticide...”
Perhaps more important, though, is the movie’s obvious affection for all things Shakespeare. There are oodles of visual gags and references to the Bard’s canon, with license plates and branding on moving vans among those Shakespearean placements.
Some are obvious, like a bottle labeled “Taming of the Glue” and the Tempest Teapot company. Others are a little more sly, like the Capulets’ house number, 2B, while next door the Montagues is a crossed out 2B. Get it? To be or not to be.
Some are even sneakier, like the old Laurence residence, a nice nod to the master Shakespearean thespian Laurence Olivier.
The Play’s the Thing
The references in this little gem go way beyond Shakespeare. Modern movies are also among the fodder, including American Beauty, Saving Private Ryan, and even Apocalypse Now.
Heck, there’s also a very funny reference to Lassie. “Little Timmy fell into the well?” It takes on more silliness when the conversation involves a pink flamingo and a mushroom.
Maybe that hodge-podge pop culture sensibility is the result of the movie’s fleet of nine writers, but it’s an element that adds a secondary level to the proceedings that’ll help keep older audience members engaged while the main storyline serves as a great intro to classic theatre for the smaller kids.
Granted, the ending is over the top and maybe a smidge sloppy in terms of narrative, but Gnomeo & Juliet’s incandescent happiness builds up such an enormous amount of goodwill, the faults are forgivable.
As is standard practice these days, there are a few packaging options available. One is the standard DVD; one is a set of 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy; and there’s also the Blu-ray and DVD 2-disc combo set. This review refers to that 2-disc edition.
The three DVD extras in this section are also included on the Blu-ray.
Elton Builds a Garden (5:47) is a nice little look at the making of the movie, focusing on Elton’s involvement in the music. It’s interesting to hear Rocket Pictures was set up with help from Disney (the movie was ultimately released under Disney’s Touchstone shingle) and it’s revealed the initial idea was to load up the movie with brand new Elton John songs, then the powers that be decided to go with the catalog tunes plus a couple new songs.
Frog Talk with Ashley Jensen (1:46) is a humorous look at the actress playing out her role as Nanette, the frog.
Crocodile Rock (1:32) is an oddball. It’s a music video mash-up with Nelly Furtado and Elton John. What’s there is great, the problem is, clocking in at 92 seconds, it’s only half of the song. That’s dopey.
The bulk of the features are exclusive to Blu-ray, but they’re pretty lackluster.
Similar to Frog Talk with Ashley Jensen, The Fawn of Darkness (1:29) shows Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince of Darkness, in the recording studio doing his thing as the lawn deer. Ozzy describes it as the easiest work he’s ever done.
There are two alternate endings with introductions by director Kelly Asbury (4:05), each presented as story reels, essentially motion storyboards as opposed to finished animation. One’s an alternate take on the narrative, while the other is a different take on the dance sequence.
There’s also a collection of eight deleted and alternate scenes with introductions by Asbury (42:25). As with the alternate endings, they’re story reels and none of them rate as “must see” material.
- Alternate Opening (4:09) depicts some of the mischievous shenanigans that take place between the Reds and the Blues.
- Featherstone’s Game (2:29) is a playful little scene in which Featherstone, the pink flamingo, unwittingly helps Gnomeo figure out his next move in regard to Juliet.
- Alternate First Date (5:00) features a much different, hippie-style version of Featherstone.
- Game On (3:07) is an extraneous scene involving Tybault’s revenge for the wishing well attack, along with Blue’s plans for retribution.
- Gnomeo Exiled (9:09) puts Gnomeo through a sub-adventure that feels a little bit like something out of Toy Story 3.
- Wedding Ruse (8:05) was written off as too typical; it involves a race to the altar and attempts to stop the wedding between Gnomeo and Juliet. It includes some wittiness, but the focus on the whole wedding situation, including a secondary suitor, derails the pacing with a dulled narrative.
- Featherstone, Shroom, & Gnomeo (2:09) unnecessarily interrupts the action with an oddball encounter with a penguin trash bin.
- Gnomeo Meets the Weathervanes (1:39) is a superfluous scene in which Gnomeo gets some directions from a collection of rooftop weathervanes.
Picture and Sound
The technical specs on the Blu-ray are solid.
Given the all-digital nature of the source material, it’s easy to appreciate the detailed work in the animation. It’s particularly amusing to take note of the chips, dings, and splotchy craftsmanship of the concrete gnomes.
The English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio serves the music quite well, but there isn’t really enough in the sound design to warrant a showcase ranking.
Also available is a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track.
Subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, and Spanish.
How to Use This Disc
Let the lighthearted fun of Gnomeo & Juliet put a smile on your face.