Dissing the Bard

Gnomeo & Juliet turns the Shakespeare classic into a 3-D Elton John promo reel 

Sharing only a measly resemblance to the legendary storyline for William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this animated children’s movie is an abomination by any standard. To see one of Shakespeare’s most-beloved plays maligned with such mudslinging indulgence is an affront that no audience should suffer. If you were thinking it might be a good introduction to Shakespeare for little ones, think again. It’s hard to imagine what incited the depth of loathing the film’s nine screenwriters actively exhibit against the Bard. One thing is certain, they make their revulsion loud and clear.

Packed with updated versions of Elton John songs such as “Crocodile Rock”—sung in duet between Sir John and Lady Gaga—Gnomeo & Juliet is one long series of music videos gone wrong.

The filmmakers paint the Montagues and Capulets in Republican and Democrat colors of red (for Juliet’s family) and blue (for Romeo’s team). I suppose it’s a way of bringing the longstanding feud between the two families into a modern context of right-and left-wing reality.

Regardless, no attempt is made at keeping any of Shakespeare’s original language intact. Don’t expect to hear such indelible lines as “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” The script at hand is more hack-job than adaptation. No shred of lyrical romanticism remains. Even the clichés that substitute for any kind of false meaning are ragged. A lame Borat reference involving a gnome in a string-bikini bathing suit is just one example of the crassness on parade.

The premise is simple. Two adjacent homes are split down the middle by a fence that separates a red house from a blue one. The humans who live there hate one another with a contagious passion. When said inhabitants leave for vacation, their vast collection of ceramic garden gnomes come to life to carry on a proxy battle. As with the Toy Story franchise, inanimate things can only animate when no person is looking. A lawn mower race starts off the proceedings. It doesn’t end well. Romeo goes Rambo-style to do damage to his rivals on their turf and Juliet puts on ninja garb.

Storyboard-artist-turned director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) doesn’t direct so much as he churns out a mixed-bag of animated slop. Swirling around in Asbury’s blender of gelatinous visual goop are voices provided by top and bottom rung talent. It’s not every day that you hear Michael Caine and Maggie Smith mentioned alongside Ozzy Osbourne and Hulk Hogan.

Most improbable is the producers’ choice to use the most expensive 3-D treatment available—called XpanD. At $130 per pair of XpanD 3-D glasses, you might expect a stereoscopic experience to rival last year’s My Bloody Valentine. No such luck. Once again, Hollywood confirms it has no intention of backing down from charging $20 a ticket for a lackluster 3-D experience.

“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Or, in the case of Gnomeo & Juliet, never was there a movie of more woe. If ever there was impetus to take your children to an actual stage production of Romeo and Juliet instead of to the cinema, this is it. 

Gnomeo & Juliet (G) ★☆☆☆☆