Monday, February 21, 2011

Film Review with Robert Mann - Gnomeo & Juliet

Gnomeo & Juliet 3D **½
Gnomeo & Juliet 2D **

Gnomeo & Juliet
is the latest computer animated feature to be released by Disney – almost anyway. In a rare turn of events, this family animated movie does not carry the Walt Disney Pictures logo at the start, rather being released through their sister company Touchstone Pictures, the part of Disney that usually handles the release of more grown up films as opposed to family ones. Why is this the case?

Well, it could be simply that this film – which has been in development for quite a long time – isn’t actually made by Disney themselves or even animated by Walt Disney Animation studios, rather being produced by Starz Animation, the animation house behind such animated features as Space Chimps and 9. On the other hand, however, it could be due to the fact that Disney simply didn’t think the film was any good and decided that they didn’t want it to be associated with the Disney brand. After all, both those aforementioned films by Starz Animation were incredibly mediocre and neither even did well at the box office. Something else to note about the film is that it is co-produced by Rocket Pictures, the production company owned by Elton John and his partner David Furnish, Furnish being one of the main producers on this film, and Furnish’s producing track record too is also pretty mediocre, his past films including 1999’s Women Talking Dirty and 2006’s It’s a Boy Girl Thing. Also, with Furnish producing comes music pretty much solely by Elton John, something that ensures that, if you are not a fan of him, this probably isn’t a film for you. Gnomeo & Juliet is not completely without more promising credentials, however, as director Kelly Asbury’s previous animated features include both Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Shrek 2, two films that show he is no hack when it comes to directing animation and the voice cast here is quite an impressive one also. But, with a lot of people having worked on the screenplay – something that isn’t always a very good sign – and a premise that hardly screams out as being something truly special, does Gnomeo & Juliet manage to be a decent animated feature that can compete with the output of the bigger animation studios, improving Starz Animation’s reputation no end in the process, or, like its literary inspiration, does it rather succumb to tragedy and leave you on a low note?

Miss Montague (voiced by Julie Walters) and Mr Capulet (voiced by Richard Wilson) are two next door neighbours on Verona Drive who hate each other’s guts and who are engaged in a seemingly endless war with one another. But they are unaware of an even greater war that is going on in their gardens – between their garden gnomes, Montague’s blues and Capulet’s reds. Their gnomes too have been feuding for one another so long that neither side can remember what started it all in the first place, every day bringing new strikes against the opposing side as the gnome leaders, blue gnome Lady Bluebury (voiced my Maggie Smith) and red gnome Lord Redbrick (voiced by Michael Caine), just cannot see eye to eye. Commanding the blue gnome’s strikes against the reds is the brave and heroic Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and his loyal friend Benny (voiced by Matt Lucas) while their opposing numbers in the reds come in the form of the tough Tybalt (voiced by Jason Statham) and his number two Fawn (voiced by Ozzy Osbourne). The gnomes day to day routine of going head to head with one another is about to change, however, as, while on a mission to collect a rare flower from an abandoned garden, a flower that could put the garden belonging to the other side to shame, Gnomeo encounters the beautiful and strong willed Juliet (voiced by Emily Blunt) and immediately the two fall for one another. There’s just one problem – Juliet is a red gnome and, as Juliet’s friend, frog ornament Nanette (voiced by Ashley Jensen), tells her, their relationship is doomed. But Gnomeo and Juliet are not going to let the feud between their parents, Lady Bluebury and Lord Redbrick, get in the way of their love and they decide to escape to the abandoned garden where they first met. While there they make a new friend in the form of lovesick pink flamingo ornament Featherstone (voiced by Jim Cummings) and it seems like all will be well for them from now on. Things soon take a turn for the worse, however, when their respective sides discover their romance and try to put a stop to it, with tragic results seemingly around the corner. Can Gnomeo and Juliet keep their love alive and, perhaps more importantly, can they end the silly war between them before someone really gets hurt?

A prologue at the start of Gnomeo & Juliet tells us that “the story you are about to watch has been told before, a lot, and now we are going to tell it again, different”. That this film is based on Romeo and Juliet is blatantly obvious from the (not particularly clever) title but it really fails to do much with the material, merely taking the existing story and transplanting the events from fair Verona to the suburban neighbourhood of Verona Drive, Montague and Capulet now being next door neighbours who hate each other while the central characters are substituted for garden gnomes with the blues and the reds representing the two feuding families, and removing the tragedy element (although there are a few scenes that are still tinged with a slight sense of tragedy) – this is a film intended for children after all. The premise – little more than what I have already said, just Romeo and Juliet with gnomes – is weak and with that the story is entirely predictable. This might not be too much of a problem but for the fact that the film is not particularly successful in other areas either. The filmmakers have clearly aimed for a success in the vein of the first Shrek film but have missed by a longshot, the film rather being closer to the mediocre third and fourth Shrek movies. While there are a few scenes that may raise a giggle or two, the film as a whole just isn’t very punny. See what I did there – this is a pretty good example of the standard of humour that this film delivers. There are some very bad puns here – for instance, a scene where Nanette meets a mushroom ornament and says “you look like a fun guy” – so bad in fact that they are almost criminal (I would have liked to include a pun here but nothing came to mind unfortunately). This, combined with some weak attempts at pop culture reference based humour, makes for some very lame gags and a generally low calibre of humour that only very undemanding viewers will be likely to appreciate. Some smart touches might have raised the film a bar or two but, aside from a scene where Gnomeo has a debate with a monument of William Shakespeare – appropriately voiced with class and sophistication by Patrick Stewart – over whether or not the story should have a tragic ending, there are none. Despite there being several action based sequences, the film is also somewhat lacking in excitement and the animation is also a bit lacking, being very hit and miss, occasionally coming close to photorealism but generally lacking in texture and detail. The 3D here also isn’t the best, occasionally enhancing the action orientated scenes slightly and applying a rather beautiful lustre to romance based ones but generally being unremarkable. I guess that garden gnomes aren’t the best thing to see in 3D and a garden is hardly the deepest setting to make full use of the extra dimension. With the writing also being so-so despite a lot of writers – seven people (Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley and Steven Hamilton Shaw) – having worked on the screenplay – which itself was based on another original screenplay by John R. Smith and Rob Sprackling – the vocal performances also prove unspectacular for the most part. The typical who’s who of British name actors – James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne, Matt Lucas, Julie Walters, Richard Wilson, Stephen Merchant and, of course, Patrick Stewart (as well as Americans Jim Cummings, Dolly Parton and (bizarrely) Hulk Hogan) – lend their voices but, as a whole, they just don’t contribute that much. Only a few cast members prove noteworthy, McAvoy and Blunt being very good as the titular star crossed lovers, Jensen also being good, Statham being the perfect voice for a tough guy role, Osbourne being rather amusing and Stewart being perfect as already stated. A few good efforts are not enough to change the film’s fortunes or overlook the self indulgence on display here though. Producer David Furnish has made the film into what really boils down to a showcase for his partner Elton John – who is also an executive producer and who makes an appearance in the film in gnome form – and while the music, performed and composed by Elton John with lyrics by long time collaborating partner Bernie Taupin, does prove quite complementary to what is going on on screen, it also seems chosen for the completely wrong reasons. Overall, while the love story at the heart of the film is sweet and adorable and the film does have its moments, the whole thing simply isn’t funny or exciting enough. Some kids will undoubtedly enjoy Gnomeo & Juliet but ultimately I doubt that Shakespeare would really approve and puns as bad as the ones in the film cannot go unpunished in what is little more than another so-so choice for this half-term holiday.


Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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