No Love for “Gnomeo and Juliet”

Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

It probably takes some kind of innovative thinking to consider reinterpreting a classic story into something new. If that is the case, then there must be some kind of eccentricity involved in attempting to reinvent the tragic Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” into a kid-friendly movie.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Juliet and her Romeo. They are the classic example of star-crossed lovers who come from different households that are, for some unexplained reason, constantly at odds. The tragedy is that Juliet and Romeo’s mutual love leads to their upsetting suicide. On the other hand, their deaths help dissolve the rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues.

So what exactly about this tragic series of events could be appealing for children? Initial impressions are everything, and the first attraction that must be done right is visual design. The design team’s answer was to change the characters into kid-friendly gnomes, but unlike the ones from R.L. Stine’s “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes,” these gnomes are actually pretty cute.

Another must in a kid-friendly movie is comedy, which integrates well overall. Subtle enough to go unnoticed by kids, most of the jokes are geared towards adults. Since most of the humor references pop culture, this is truly an area where adults can sit back and enjoy themselves. Whether or not the cameos of Elton-gnome John and Bru-gnome are recognized by the younger generation is a mystery, but they are sure to put smiles on all faces in the audience.

The development of the movie draws mostly from the original story. There is no attempt to stray from Shakespeare’s play for the setting and the characters. The movie even opens with a short excerpt from the plays introduction, though instead of Verona, our story takes place in suburban England.

Throughout the film, many of the characters are constantly involved in a battle of pranks and retaliation. While this interplay between the “Reds” and the “Blues” is necessary for development, it was very annoying and seemed almost excessive.

It must be noted, however, that some characters seem ambivalent towards the rivalry.  Juliet’s father, for example, is mainly focused on keeping Juliet safe from harm. Thus, “house” leaders on both sides are not necessarily the primary antagonists.

If there is one antagonist that needed to be named, it would be the red side’s Tybalt. Many of his pranks are underhanded and can therefore lead to audience dislike of not only Tybalt, but the red side as a whole. Still, the creators do a good job of diffusing this problem by focusing more on character relationships on the red side than on the blue side.

As the story moves into the second half, the potential for a promising reinvention of Shakespeare’s play begins to fall flat.

Since the movie was made for children, it means that Gnomeo and Juliet cannot die, right? If they did, it would be akin to sucking a child’s innocence and imagination out through a hole in their chest where their childhood was.

So if the characters need to live, there is a chance for a new twist to the classic tragedy that is “Romeo and Juliet.” The problem is, however, that the creators choose to stick just a bit too closely to the plot of the original play. This ultimately results in a lackluster ending that leaves a kid feeling great but an adult feeling somewhat indifferent.

The final issue with the film is technical. There is absolutely no need for this movie to be in 3D. Rarely, throughout the entire length of the film, did anything need to be coming “out” of the screen and into the face of the viewer. No explosions, no giants reaching out to grab something, no major flying projectiles. Eventually, even with the efforts of making the whole movie in 3D, everything ends up looking flat on the screen because of how the eye adjusts to the situation. The only things that come out of this experience are the discomfort of having to wear more glasses and the sensation of a lighter wallet.

My recommendation for the non-kid crowd is that the only thing really worth watching in this movie is the comedy — that is, of course, if the price doesn’t matter. If there are kids in the family, it’s not a complete loss to go with them. This movie is cute and funny, but nothing all that extraordinary.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars