‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ has kid, adult appeal

Published 8:56 am Friday, February 18, 2011

Column: Screen Time

I’ve never had much of a desire to possess garden gnomes.

The small humanoid lawn ornaments with pointy hats really aren’t my style, and apparently, they also wreak havoc on your yard when nobody is looking.

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“Gnomeo and Juliet,” which is obviously an animated adaption of William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” actually cleverly and humorously weaves much of Shakespeare’s original story line and characters (albeit simplified) into a children’s movie, giving this British film entertainment value for adults, too.

Instead of a street fight between the Montagues and the Capulets like what took place in the original, this story begins with a lawn mower drag race through an alley between bitter rival garden gnome families, the blues (the Montagues) and the reds (the Capulets). The gnomes, which only come to life when people aren’t around, tend to the neighboring yards of humans Miss Montague and Mr. Montague and cause mischief on one another’s property.

The blue Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) and the red Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) meet when they simultaneously go after an orchid on top of an abandoned greenhouse, and the two soon fall in love. But as children of the two families’ leaders, Lady Bluebury (voice of Maggie Smith) and Lord Redbrick (voice of Michael Cane), Gnomeo and Juliet must keep their forbidden love a secret.

The film also humorously pilfers several supporting characters from the original, such as the antagonist Tybalt (voice of Jason Statham) of the red family; the nerdy Paris (voice of Stephen Merchant), a red who unsuccessfully attempts to court Juliet; Benny (a variation of Benvolio and Mercutio voiced by Matt Lucas), a friend of Gnomeo’s; and Juliet’s friend Nanette the frog (similar to the nurse, voiced by Ashley Jensen).

The mostly British cast also features Ozzy Osbourne as Fawn, the deer in charge of security for the reds, Jim Cummings as a pink flamingo with a satirically heavy Spanish accent named Featherstone (named after Donald Featherstone, who created the pink flamingo lawn ornament), Hulk Hogan as the spokesperson for a beast of a lawnmower called the Terrafirminator, and music by Elton John.

Thankfully this film for children, written and directed by “Shrek 2’s” Kelly Asbury, doesn’t entirely mirror the original, which was a tragedy. As Gnomeo, who is lost and presumed dead, sits atop a bronze statue of William Shakespeare (voiced by Patrick Stewart), the two discuss the similarities between Gnomeo’s current predicament and a play with which he is “familiar.” Shakespeare says he prefers a tragic ending with a high body count, while Gnomeo is determined to create a cheerier finish. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include keeping a tidy lawn.

Tribune Audience Manager Adam Harringa’s column appears every Thursday.