Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical about this film. An adaptation of Shakespeare's immortal romance, starring garden gnomes?  Within the first few minutes of the movie, however, I was hooked.  A gnome walks onto the stage and, in what I can only describe as a Veggie Tales voice, apologizes in advance for how many times that story has already been told. Without further ado, he wipes out a massive scroll, and begins reading Shakespeare's prologue. Spoiler warning: he doesn't finish.

If you don't enter the theater knowing this particular story in advance, my feelings towards you would probably be categorized as: "Oh, how cute!  And how many years old are you?" To reduce it to essentials: boy meets girl, boy is supposed to hate girl, but boy thinks girl is kinda cute, and their doom is thereby assured.  Sure, there are other details like "boy kills girl's brother, and girl wishes he hadn't," but those are really of secondary importance to the gloriously doomed romance.

My favorite brand of humor is probably self-aware humor, and this movie has it in spades. The movie is full to brimming with Shakespeare references, whether in the name of the two neighbor in whose yards this gnome-gang warfare is set, in the name of the movie company (it's a famous duo, and it's not "Starsky and Hutch") , or in the giant talking statue of Shakespeare located in the nearby park. Some of the dialogue is admittedly groan-worthy, but there are several particularly clever lines.  On one occasion Juliet encounters the neighbor's dog and pushes it away, "Out!  Out!", whereupon the neighbor is heard searching for the dog, "Damn Spot!" Another scene shows two gnomes are searching for a mysterious vandal, and decide to split up... only to realize that their feet are joined to the same base.  The first gnome shrugs, "I wish I could quit you," and they continue on their merry way.

Some of the voice work is also top notch: James McAvoy and Emily Blunt voice the two leads, Michael Caine voices Juliet's father and the leader of the red gnomes, while Maggie Smith (see also: Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series) voices Gnomeo's mother and leader of the blue gnomes. There are more than a few funny moments involving Featherstone, a rather demented pink flamingo played by the legendary voice actor Jim Cummings (who at points seems to channel Robin Williams as the Genie). Meanwhile, Jason Statham is perfectly cast as the villainous Tybalt, and the show is nearly stolen by Ashley Jensen, who plays Juliet's "nurse," the boy-crazy frog Nanette.

Elton John was a producer of the movie and it definitely shows: the 70's- and 80's-themed soundtrack, while it fits the energy of the piece, tends to get in the way of some of the scenes.  The ending is particular was a bit too much -- I felt like it just hadn't earned the right to be quite so jubilantly cheesy and saccharine.  On the whole, though, it was an energetic and unabashedly self-referential comedy that earned its keep and at least temporarily sated my appetite for cornball humor.  If you liked the film "Over the Hedge" -- or, better yet, you liked that film but for the pontificating on social issues -- you'll almost certainly enjoy this film.

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