Critical Mass: 'Gnomeo & Juliet'
It sounds like one of those hellish movie ideas you only hear about in other movies satirizing the soulless lack of creativity in Hollywood: Take William Shakespeare's classic "Romeo & Juliet" and re-create it with garden gnomes. But surprisingly, reviews for this animated flick, which Disney is releasing through its Touchstone label, have been pretty evenly split. Some hate it, sure. But just as many are finding themselves pleasantly surprised by the little guys.
Count The Times' own Kenneth Turan as one of the converts. "Playful, inventive and endearing, this 84-minute epic is smart enough not to overstay its welcome as it steers clear of the fatuous and the formulaic," he says. And he says it's the "surprise of the season" if only because of its silly title.
Even the British reviewers, who have every right to be a little stuffy about Shakespearean adaptations, seem won over by the red and blue fellas. Reviewer Tim Robey, writing in the Telegraph, gives the film an admiring -- albeit very short -- review. He writes, "Thanks to the guiding hand of director Kelly Asbury ('Shrek 2') and sweet voice work in the leads by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, it's not bad at all."
Fellow British reviewer John Walsh in the Independent expressed the same amount of fondness for the film, without going too overboard. No one who likes the film flips out over it, but they do say it's nice. He writes, "The producers were clearly hoping for a hybrid of 'Toy Story' and 'Shrek,' and while the film doesn't have the lovability and wit of the former, or the mad creativity of the latter, it's directed with flair and energy, spirited, funny and charming."
Meanwhile, on our side of the pond, some critics aren't nearly so charmed. Richard Corliss' review in Time is dripping with contempt: "Defiantly derivative and groaning from joke overload, this Disney pickup takes more than half its running time to find a distinctive tone, a reason for being. In the meantime, director Kelly Asbury burrows along in familiar ruts, assuming that his target demographics of tots and tweens will be so deeply steeped in classic pop culture that they will appreciate the endless parodies."
Newark Star-Ledger reviewer Stephen Whitty seems actually angry that he had to see the movie when he dismisses the talent behind the scenes by alleging they all did it for a check and a chance to be added to Elton John's guest list. (John's partner David Furnish was a producer on the film.) Whitty does bring up one important question, however: "Seriously, have most small children here even seen a garden gnome? Outside of a website commercial, maybe, or the cover of Grandpa’s old 'All Things Must Pass' album?" Apparently they aren't much for lawn whimsy in the Garden State.
And Time Out New York's critic Nick Schager has it in for the film, which he calls "a disposable cash-in designed to kill time in between franchise entries." And he further says, "the movie’s overall lack of imagination is the real tragedy."
Charming surprise or crass cash-in? When it comes to opinions of "Gnomeo & Juliet," the critics seem to be enacting their own version of the Montagues versus the Capulets.
-- Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: "Gnomeo & Juliet." Credit: Touchstone Pictures