(2011) Animated Feature (Touchstone) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Jim Cummings, Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan, Julie Walters, Dolly Parton, Stephen Merchant, Richard Wilson. Directed by Kelly Asbury
If the play’s the thing, then Romeo and Juliet may just be THE thing. Perhaps the most famous play ever written, it has been told and re-told in all sorts of cinematic methods, from musicals (West Side Story) to epics (Zeffirelli’s 1968 version) to mistakes (Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 MTV-hip version). However, I can’t think of any version that is quite as bizarro as this one.
Mr. Montague (Wilson) and Miss Capulet (Waters) live at 2B and Not 2B Verona Avenue. They have had a petty rivalry going on over the years stemming from their gardens. This resentment has carried over to their garden furniture, particularly the garden gnomes that populate their yards. On the Montague side, Lord Redbrick (Caine) rules the red gnomes; on the Capulet, Lady Bluebury (Smith) is the boss.
Gnomeo (McAvoy) is son of Lady Bluebury; Juliet (Blunt) daughter of Lord Redbrick. The endless rivalry that goes on, largely in the form of lawnmower races between Gnomeo and Tybalt (Statham) which Tybalt cheats in order to win, has been escalating. Juliet, tired of being cooped up on a pedestal watched over by Nanette (Jensen), a frog fountain at the behest of Juliet’s overprotective dad, wants to contribute and be productive; she spies a rare orchid in the hothouse of a neighboring yard whose house has fallen into disrepair. She means to nab it for the Reds in order to put the red yard ahead of the blue.
In the meantime, Gnomeo means to exact revenge for Tybalt’s destruction of the Blue lawnmower. He and his cousin Benny (Lucas) go on a stealth mission to the Red yard, meaning to lay down some graffiti but Benny gets a bit carried away and the two are discovered. They flee and Gnomeo is forced to take shelter in the abandoned yard.
It is of course at that moment that Juliet, dressed as a ninja (okay, wearing one of Mr. Montague’s old socks) enters the abandoned yard to nab the orchid. Gnomeo sees her go after it and in the way of guys everywhere, once he sees somebody wants something he wants it too. The two of them compete for the flower in a series of martial arts-like moves until they get a gander at each other’s faces. That’s it – instant love. However, they fall into a convenient pond, washing off Gnomeo’s camouflage and washing away Juliet’s sock and they realize that they are from opposing sides.
That doesn’t mean much to true love however and they arrange a meeting in the neutral yard the next day. There they meet Featherstone (Cummings), a plastic pink flamingo who has languished in the storage shed since the owners of the house divorced and went their separate ways years ago. He is pleased to see them, particularly when they discover his missing leg. He is all about love, particularly since his own love was taken away from him in the divorce.
The two are definitely in love and life could certainly be idyllic, particularly if they follow through with their plans to run away and start a new garden in the dilapidated old yard. However, Tybalt is getting out of control and the war between red and blue is escalating and frankly, red is winning. However, the blue side looks to even things out with something called the Terrafirminator. The more out of control things get, the more likely that a tragic ending is inevitable.
This is one of those nice occasions where my expectations were exceeded. I didn’t think much of the trailer; the animation isn’t really ground-breaking and while the whole concept is different to say the least, it is sufficiently out there that sight unseen it left me with a kind of wait-and-see attitude. Quite frankly, Da Queen was far more jazzed to see this than I was. I’m very glad that she insisted we go see it.
This is more than pretty good. There are many sly Shakespearean references (“Out! Damn spot!” refers not to a bloodstain but to a wayward hound) as well as some amazing stunt casting, like metal god Ozzie Osbourne as a sweet porcelain deer, and Patrick Stewart as a grumpy William Shakespeare. Hulk Hogan narrates an online ad for the Terrafirminator and Dolly Parton adds a turn as the starter at the lawnmower race (with an appropriately blonde and large-breasted gnome as her onscreen alter ego).
Director Kelly Asbury previously worked on such disparate projects as Shrek 2 and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron. He shows a deft hand here and despite an army of writers, lends a Monty Python-esque air to the proceedings.
Elton John was the executive producer of the project and most of the incidental music is themes from his hit songs done with an orchestra. That does make for a nice trip down memory lane, not to mention he contributes two new original songs (one a duet with Lady Gaga) but I would have preferred a little more original music – maybe another song or two – to balance the retreads.
There aren’t nearly the pop culture references so prevalent in most animated features in the post-Shrek era which is kind of refreshing. It has a decidedly English feel, like the Aardman films (like Chicken Run and Flushed Away). In short, this is something completely different from the animated ranks, so much so that Disney chose to release it through their Touchstone imprint rather than the parent company where they usually place their animated features. That may backfire on them – I suspect that the film might have benefitted from the Disney marketing and brand name, but still in all don’t let its lack stop you – this is a fine animated feature that will delight children and adults alike.
REASONS TO GO: Wonderful Shakespeare in-jokes replace pop culture references. Nicely cast (and drawn) cameos.
REASONS TO STAY: Music recycles Elton John themes ad infinitum – some more original music and songs would have been welcome.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart have both played Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies; Stewart in the first three (and the Wolverine spin-off) and McAvoy in the upcoming X-Men: First Class.
HOME OR THEATER: Certainly the 3D aspect may work better in the theater, but this one looks just as good at home methinks.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: The Other End of the Line