Tempt not a desperate gnome

A Shakespearean classic becomes a kids’ movie with the release of “Gnomeo and Juliet.”

Tony Libera

âÄúGnomeo and JulietâÄù

Directed by: Kelly Asbury

Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine

Rated: G

Showing at: Area theaters

ShakespeareâÄôs âÄúRomeo and JulietâÄù has been told to death over the years, with its loose skeleton shifting into everything from gang-filled musicals to kung fu movies. Now the classic tale of star-crossâÄôd lovers gets the animated treatment in âÄúGnomeo and Juliet,âÄù Touchstone PicturesâÄô first animated picture since the claymation classic, âÄúThe Nightmare Before Christmas.âÄù

As the story goes, two gnome households, both alike in dignity, are involved in a raging feud. The only respite from their bitter fighting comes when their owners return home, and they are forced to resume their static gnome poses. ItâÄôs basically âÄúToy StoryâÄù meets Shakespeare.

While itâÄôs true that most efforts deriving from bad puns arenâÄôt worth their weight in gold-enstern (see?), âÄúGnomeo and JulietâÄù had the benefit of a timeless framework to build off of, a studio with a respected animation pedigree and one of the best ensemble casts that Britain had to offer âÄî weâÄôre talking âÄúHarry PotterâÄù level. James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, a couple âÄúHarry PotterâÄù regulars, Julie Walters and Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart and The Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, all have significant roles.

Noteworthy American cameos include Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton âÄî the former provides narration for an overblown ad campaign, while Dolly plays a drag race flag gnome. Voice-acting stalwart Jim Cummings, whoâÄôs provided the voices for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, among other Disney characters lends his skill, as well.

Then thereâÄôs the soundtrack, provided by executive producer, Sir Elton Hercules John. âÄúGnomeo and JulietâÄù digs through Sir EltonâÄôs back-catalogue with mixed results, but itâÄôs the apparent willingness on the part of Elton âÄî as well as the actors âÄî that makes one stop and wonder: With so much talent, could this movie actually be good despite its gnome-centric premise?

But the biggest question is not necessarily one of quality but rather of tact: How does a studio go about making a children’s movie based on a tale dripping with murder and the dramatic suicides of its titular characters?

Adults versed in the tragedy will undoubtedly be thinking along these lines as their kiddies bounce on bended knee. The unintended byproduct of this sense of wonder is a strange pleasure in the unraveling of the story, not necessarily in its critical or narrative development, but in its mystery. âÄúGnomeo and Juliet,âÄù for the adult viewer, is not just a love story but a detective flick. We find ourselves wrestling and reasoning with the story in our head, trying to figure out the conclusion before it happens. Because Touchstone (the studio, not the character from âÄúAs You Like ItâÄù) couldnâÄôt possible let all those characters die, could they?

âÄúGnomeo and JulietâÄù is not without its surprises; some, like a fairly depressing subplot involving a lawn flamingo (seriously), work better than others. But for the most part, âÄúGnomeo and JulietâÄù doesnâÄôt take too many chances. There’s some romance, a few hearty laughs and some cleverly hidden treats for the discerning mind, but for the most part this is straight-up kidsâÄô fare âÄî entertaining but a far cry from the Pixar gold standard

2/4 Stars