This evening, Melissa and I intended to see Rango, the new animated feature film from the director of The Ring and starring the lead in 21 Jump Street. Or at least, Johnny Depp was the only notable thing about 21 Jump Street. When we got to the theater, however, the showing we were running desperately to make was sold out. Perhaps that, combined with her complete lack of interest in The Adjustment Bureau (despite it screening in a new theater from the future [glare at Mel, glare at Mel]) was the reason we saw Gnomeo and Juliet–a movie we both expected to be a tired retread of the same damn story for the fifty billionth time.
I like to envision stories that get perpetually remade as different iterations of the same souls across different universes. It’s a fun game to play, inspired by the Rebuild of Evangelion series. It’s a lot more fun watching Hamlet if you think that just this once, because he’s not Mel Gibson in medieval Europe, but is instead Ethan Hawke in the late 1990’s, maybe, just maybe this time he’ll succeed. But he never does, because he’s never been reborn into a children’s feature. Make no mistake, Gnomeo and Juliet is indeed for children. I’ve said before that Pixar’s features have been increasingly family oriented fare as of late–brimming with enough subtle themes and adult moments that you can’t really say it’s exclusively for kids–but Pixar are one studio. And someone’s realized that there’s no shame in making a feature film for children–as long as you make it well.
Gnomeo and Juliet has the kind of sense of humour a project titled Gnomeo and Juliet needs to work. It takes all of its own action seriously, which lends a surreality to the proceedings. These are all lawn gnomes, right? Right. So, whenever they touch each other, they make hollow ceramic clinks. Whenever they kiss, clink. Whenever the hug, clink. Clapping their hands? Clinks. All of their days are spent gardening their respective lawns–the Blue gnome family and the Red gnome family. The two protagonists are the son and daughter of lawn gnomes. A big sign this movie is made for children: it is made for the kinds of minds that will never ask just how gnomes manage to have children, anyway. Gnomeo and Juliet pine over each other after dazzling each other with their ninja skills at trying to steal an orchid from the neighbour’s yard. There’s even a shout-out to The Matrix in there, though I spotted no similar references to Casablanca or Citizen Kane.
However, their lawns have been feuding for all time. Assumedly literally–do gnomes ever die? The threat of destruction is introduced in the opening sequence, and I remember Tybalt dying in the original play, so… yes? Juliet’s father, Lord Redbrick, has been keeping her on a pedestal since her mother died (remember gnome-creation?) and Juliet’s been itching to try her hand at driving the lawnmowers (there’s a weekly race). That’s right. He even says, in the charming and wise tones of Michael Caine, that he wants her to stay on the pedestal and never move. I’m aware that there should be some lessons in movies for kids, but we could at least try to be subtle here. Gnomeo–as yes, that is literally his name–wants to make his mom proud after his dad died. (Like, seriously, they can’t even get their–never mind…)
Because you always have to go through the plot of a Shakespeare adaptation in a recap, eventually their love is tested when Gnomeo and the Blues are attacked by Tybalt over on the Reds. Say, has anyone tried an adaptation with Hulk colours? Green and purple? Would that imply that one side is richer than the other due to the royal–anyway. Gnomeo is asked by his mother–who is unaware of his burning love–to avenge their property. One thing leads to another and he has a loaded hose of weedkiller pointed straight at his lover’s face. And then, cos it’s Shakespeare, there are about three or four more of these fake act two crises before it seems that all hope is lost.
You know those moments in movies where the wise janitor comes out of the school to give the starting quarterback some final second advice so he can make that great play? Yes, this movie has one of those too, and I daren’t reveal who the coach is. Let’s just say that it’s someone who knows the ending very well, and that Gnomeo seeks to change it. Also, the dude’s voiced by Patrick Stewart. Not Gnomeo, the other dude. Yes. Great cameo!
And really, the movie does its fair share to keep the inevitable adult or 17 year old uncle or parent or grandparent dragged along entertained. The two houses are named belong to the woman Capulet and the man Montague. They reside on Verona Avenue. Woman Capulet lives in 2B whereas man Montague lives in a house labeled 2B with that struck out. There was a neat and subtle moment in the climax of the film when Gnomeo is just running away where the wall behind him is graffitied “3×3”. Act III, scene iii–the climax of all Shakespearean drama. It’s not just Shakespeare on offer–there’s an ad for a lawnmower, more powerful than any ever witnessed, more destructive than any force ever wrought upon humanity in the style of several popular parody commercials on YouTube.
At the end of the day, despite the fact that Mel’s computer (which I’m typing this on) has the Oscar nominated Winter’s Bone on it, I don’t feel like I wasted my money at Gnomeo and Juliet. It was funny, it was cute, it was happy and it was entertaining. A lot of people are asking these days–“Where did the good three star movie go? You know, the one that’s nothing special, but entertains you for its runtime?” It’s kind of a loathsome question that needs answering, but for now I’ll just say: If you go to see Gnomeo and Juliet, you know it was conceived from the title backwards. But by golly, is it the best garden gnome based adaptation of a Shakespearean tragedy I have ever seen in 3D. THREE STARS