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"Gnomeo and Juliet" Mildly Entertains

by on February 15, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet is ostensibly based on Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, but don’t expect more from this G-rated tale of warring lawn ornaments than some borrowed names and the basic framework. Out in the suburbs, two neighboring lawns feud just as their grouchy elderly neighbors do. (Yes, their last names are Montague and Capulet). Among other things, both are populated by a large number of living, conveniently-colored garden gnomes, the “reds” and the “blues.” The two factions do their best to outdo each other, yet there’s more to the conflict than competing decorations. When humans aren’t around they come to life and have no problems spying on one another through the fence, drag racing on lawnmowers, and sabotaging the other side when possible.

Copyright © 2010 Touchstone Pictures

Enter blue gnome Gnomeo and red gnome Juliet, who have been raised by their widowed parents to not like the other side. Gnomeo’s mother expects him to lead the blues, while Juliet is sheltered by her overprotective father. Desperate to contribute something to her garden and prove that she isn’t “fragile”, Juliet secretly sets out to retrieve a unique flower that catches her eye. She encounters a disguised Gnomeo, fresh from trying to deliver some payback to his rival Tybalt with a little vandalism. Inevitably they learn each other’s identities, and the die is cast. Attraction soon overpowers prejudice, they start meeting in secret, and it’s only a matter of time before the relationship is discovered.

There’s a small element of tragedy in the movie at least, if only because the feud between the gardens seems to escalate from petty destruction to actual violence, though even this escalation is played for some laughs; the climax comes after Gnomeo’s best friend Benny sneaks onto their human’s computer so he can up order a completely over-the-top lawnmower to take final revenge. This is all well and good, but unfortunately the viewer is given only limited reason to care about the conflict. Gnomeo and Juliet are likable enough and serve their obligatory roles, but with limited exceptions they’re surrounded by characters that are just not very well-defined. Many exist to offer a simple gag, and that’s the extent of it. Tybalt , for instance, is never more than a simple jerk. The best of the lot is the plastic flamingo Featherstone, an outsider befriended by Gnomeo and Juliet, who supports the two of them in their relationship. But all in all, there’s no one here that’s even as memorable as a secondary character from Toy Story.

This is a movie for kids and a comedy adventure on top of that, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that things work out pretty well, in contrast to Shakespeare’s play. Unfortunately a rather key point is overlooked by the writers: the gnome feud ultimately ends and it’s happily ever after, except nothing is said or shown about whether or how the human neighbors reconcile. Perhaps that’s difficult to write effectively when they barely appear and get only token dialogue. Of course the young children most likely to see this won’t think about it, and they seem to be the film’s only concern. To be fair, the antics of the gnomes and their fellow ornaments are likely to amuse child and adult alike. It’s just unfortunate that this is the extent of the movie’s depth. Gnomeo and Juliet is a movie to take the kids to, but it’s not one to come back to. If you’re looking for the first genuinely good animated movie of the year, keep waiting.

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