Shiny Shelf

Gnomeo & Juliet DVD

By Jonn Elledge on 10 June 2011

It’s not a great sign when the cast list for a film makes more interesting viewing than the film itself. The cast list for Touchstone Pictures’ Gnomeo and Juliet, though, makes a surprisingly entertaining read.

Some of the star turns are obvious, of course: Patrick Stewart as a statue of William Shakespeare; Richard Wilson as a grumpy neighbour; Ozzy Osborne, vexingly, as a dim-witted deer.

But there are guest stars that pass unnoticed, too. Turns out the slutty looking gnome who announces the lawnmower race is Dolly Parton. And that lawnmower (this film is all lawnmowers) salesman? Hulk Hogan, apparently. Well I never.

The cast list, in fact, is vastly more diverting than the actual film, which is slow, witless and – this is the biggest problem – boring.

Gnomeo and Juliet, in case the joke is too subtle for you, is a cartoon version of Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, only with the leading roles taken by tasteless garden furniture. The remake, unfortunately, is substantially less funny than the original play, and that (spoilers) ends with two horny teenagers topping themselves to spite their parents.

The film is not entirely without amusement. A couple of the visual jokes are worth a giggle (my personal favourite is the numbers of the two adjoining houses on Verona Drive that provide the setting). There are a few scenes of sudden, striking pathos, too, notably the one showing the collapse of a marriage, told through its effect on a pair of matching garden flamingos.

But most of the jokes are of an obvious, slapstick sort that could be comfortably understood by the average five year old – there’s almost nothing that requires any thought for you to grasp – and even those that are funny are blunted by the sloth-like editing.

What’s more, a large chunk of the cast – including, unforgivably, leads James McAvoy and Emily Blunt – have voices that just aren’t expressive enough to work with animation. (Honourable exception: Stephen Merchant as Paris.) To make matters worse, the characters’ faces are so immobile that physically they can communicate nothing at all. Compare that to the personality Pixar imparts to Wall-E, without a single line of dialogue. Even Pixar’s logo has more personality than most of the characters in this film.

Pixar, of course, is the gold-standard for animated movies. Its films are packed with visual gags and funny lines, and they look gorgeous.

More than that, though, they’re about something. Between them, they’re about everything. If you don’t cry within the first ten minutes of Up, then you’re probably not human at all.

Gnomeo, alas, doesn’t come close. Perhaps the writers, with Shakespeare’s structure to build on, didn’t think too hard about the story they wanted to tell. Perhaps they lacked the vast resources you need to produce the kind of sharp script and detailed animation that makes Pixar’s stuff so magical. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet, a story that’s fundamentally about young lust and adolescent anger, is impossible to retell for a pre-pubescent audience without losing something.

Or perhaps Touchstone overestimated the value of a stunning cast and an Elton John soundtrack, and underestimated the value of a half decent script.

Incidentally, about the last line of dialogue in the film is, “I don’t know about you, but I think this ending is much better.” Just for the record, it’s not.

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By Jonn Elledge

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