Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine
Directed by: Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”)
Written by: Kelly Asbury (debut), Mark Burton (“Aliens in the Attic”), Kevin Cecil (debut), Emily Cook (debut), Kathy Greenberg (debut), Andy Riley (debut)
William Shakespeare is probably not turning in his grave since his classic stories have been adapted for the big screen in some form or fashion since the beginning of cinema, but with “Gnomeo & Juliet” he has to at least be wondering, “Why?”
The easy answer to that would be because “Gnomeo” rhymes with “Romeo,” the one of the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but you can also argue that the cuteness factor of the gnomes themselves was a major selling pitch. More than likely, these fat figurines will easily lure kids and their parents to the theater for a little 3-D hokum. If this finds box-office success, watch out for “The Urchin of Venice.”
Basically following along the same narrative structure as the original play, but replacing all the characters with garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, “Gnomeo” finds itself at an impasse when it refuses to inject anything fresh and exciting into the picture. Instead, the animated film takes the easy way out and makes absurd references to other films just for the sake of referencing something. Sure, these gimmicks can work well when told in context with the story (see “Shrek”), but “Gnomeo” screenwriters go too far when they find ways to force in jokes into the script featuring quotes and images from “Brokeback Mountain,” “American Beauty,” and a host of other unrelated allusions.
Where “Gnomeo” earns a few chuckles is through its use of satire to pick a little fun at Shakespeare himself. Then there’s the actual animation, which is above average when it captures the porcelain features of the garden gnomes and the clanky sounds they would make if they walked or touched each other (like tea cups toasting). Add to that, some fine voice work from an excellent British cast (Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham) and “Gnomeo” isn’t impossible to watch for a short time.
Still, you can almost imagine the ridiculously large group of novice feature film screenwriters attached to this project sitting in a room together tossing ideas and dialogue back and forth and settling on the most obvious gags. Not nearly as funny as it should have been, “Gnomeo” is the first animated film of 2011 and will easily be lost in the shuffle with the other mediocre family films to hit theaters this year. Here to hoping it doesn’t get worse than this.