My friend Pam has always had a soft spot in her heart for the kitschy, pointy hatted lawn ornaments otherwise known as garden gnomes — even going so far as to buy a Rollin’ with My Gnomies shirt a few years ago. I knew she was looking forward to seeing Gnomeo & Juliet with her young son, and so for her sake I was hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be dumb. Because, let’s be honest — the first thing that goes through your mind when you hear about a movie called “Gnomeo & Juliet” isn’t “Wow, that’s DEFINITELY going to be a winner!”
But guess what? I LOVED it! And I had no feelings one way or the other about small terracotta clay figurines going into the theater.
The story, of course, loosely follows that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But instead of the Montagues and Capulets, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a “Blue” and Juliet (Emily Blunt) is a “Red” — two warring factions of garden gnomes that reside in neighboring lawns. The Blues and Reds have hated each other for as long as anyone can remember, and they regularly hold tense lawnmower competitions and attempt to sabotage each other’s yards.
Then one day, Gnomeo and Juliet bump into each other in neutral territory… and immediately fall head over heels (hats over boots?). However, when their love-at-first-sight moment happens, they’re each disguised and their true colors (pun intended) aren’t known. When it’s revealed that he’s a Blue and she’s a Red, the weight of their situation sets in — and of course gives them a great reason to break into song. Which is, quite frankly, one of the best things about the film. Its soundtrack is awesome (unless you hate Elton John ditties — in that case, stay far, far away). There were at least five different times I caught myself thinking It’s so weird that everything’s set to Elton tunes!?!, but for me, it all still worked somehow.
In addition to the rockin’ and near-constant flow of songs, there were also several allusions to popular films — and the Bard’s other works — that will surely make adults grin. They’ll also be pleased with the film’s extremely short running-time of eighty-four minutes. What’s more, those minutes go by quickly, as director and co-writer Kelly Asbury maintains a fast pace from the opening scene to the very end. And don’t even get me started on the animation, which is stellar — some of the best I’ve ever seen. The little buggers really did look like they were made of clay, and the textures and colors were simply beautiful throughout.
One obvious, but perhaps somewhat spoilery final comment I feel compelled to make: Parents don’t need to fret that their children will grow attached to two lovelorn gnomes who end up killing themselves in a double-suicide. While the violent conclusion of the original Romeo and Juliet tale does play a tongue-in-cheek role, the way it’s handled is really cute. Rest assured that our gnomes live to see another day. Or as a certain famous playwright once wrote, “All’s well that ends well.”