How many times can you tell a story and keep it fresh? That’s a question with no definitive answer, but it’s one that needs to be asked. After countless adaptations of Romeo & Juliet across film, television and theater, is there a point when we can officially retire it and say that enough is enough? It has been performed, written out and translated to screens big and small so many times that I’m not sure much else can be done with it. The newest, kid centric adaptation of the popular story, Gnomeo & Juliet, takes the two star-crossed lovers and makes them garden gnomes—a novel concept, if not exactly sustainable.
To its credit, Gnomeo & Juliet doesn’t try to pretend like it’s completely original. In fact, before the story even starts, a random gnome steps onscreen, addresses the audiences and tells us we've already heard this story—“a lot.” It’s a great beginning, humorous and appealing, and it sets the lighthearted tone for the rest of the film. It begins with feuding neighbors, Montague and Capulet (a nice touch) who believe the other is sabotaging their garden. The truth is that when they aren’t around, their gardens come to life. The red hatted gnomes, known simply as “the Reds,” and the blue hatted gnomes, “the Blues,” have been at war for an unspecified amount of time. Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy), a fighter for the Blues, hates the Reds, but ends up falling in love with one of them, Juliet (voiced by Emily Blunt). Her reciprocation delights Gnomeo, but they must keep their love a secret because their respective families would not approve.
Essentially, this is Romeo & Juliet to a tee, except cuter, brighter, funnier and with a key plot point changed to appease the young ones in the audience (and given the age demographic of the film, the change shouldn’t be difficult to figure out). That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the story of Romeo & Juliet is a great one, but by toning it down for children, it loses much of its appeal. The drama lands like a thud because that is not its focus, a clear separation from the source material.
Instead, Gnomeo & Juliet works the comedy over hard, rarely pausing to allow the theoretical emotion to seep through. At its worst, the jokes come off as childish, but at its best, it’s laugh out loud funny thanks to some incredibly clever adult references and top notch voice acting. The voices behind the characters in this thing work like a Pixar movie in that you aren’t always aware of who is actually speaking and if you are, as is the case with Jason Statham in his first animated role (unless you count Crank), they’re so good it doesn’t matter. Some of the funniest moments, however, come from the talented animation team (the same one behind the beautifully macabre 9). Even though only one visual gag works for every three or four you see, they come at such a rapid pace that the misses in between the hits are forgivable.
Still, Gnomeo & Juliet is primarily a kids movie and although it will certainly work for them, after a while the adult brains in the crowd are going to begin wishing they were being worked a bit more. It’s a pleasant diversion, if insubstantial, and yes, that’s good enough to recommend.
Gnomeo & Juliet receives 2.5/5