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The title pretty much says it all — and that’s the fundamental problem with Gnomeo & Juliet. Despite the novel approach to Shakespeare’s oft-told tale of doomed love, this 3D animated garden gnome variation never fully comes to life, even with its stellar voice cast and played out against the toe-tapping backdrop of the Elton John-Bernie Taupin songbook.
That selection of Sir Elton’s greatest hits (the film is produced by John and David Furnish’s Rocket Pictures) isn’t the only reason why the Touchstone Pictures release feels so readily familiar. A veritable multitude of credited writers have cobbled together a collection of shtick-heavy bits from reclaimed material, offering little that’s fresh or fully dimensional.
The garden-variety results, including the nothing-special 3D, should likely still bring in a decent crowd, capitalizing on the scarcity of new family-appropriate product in the current Oscar-courting marketplace.
Set in the Stratford-Upon-Avon yards of 2B and Not 2B Verona Drive, the attached residences of the competitive Miss Montague (Julie Walters) and Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson), respectively, the story concerns the longstanding rivalry between their vast collection of kitschy blue and red gnomes who come to life when no humans are looking.
Boldly crossing those color barriers are the brave Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and the fair Juliet (Emily Blunt), much to the dissatisfaction of his stately mother, Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), and her overprotective father, Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine).
Also weighing in is a Latino pink flamingo (Jim Cummings, channeling Robin Williams), Jason Statham as Gnomeo’s nemesis and Ashley Jensen as Juliet’s amphibious confidante, along with the likes of Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne and Hulk Hogan.
But while the film is not without some inspired sequences — a conversation between Gnomeo and a statue of Bill Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart) among them — they’re few and far between.
It’s not unreasonable to have expected more, and not just because of those nine credited screenwriters and all those colorful voices.
Having co-directed Shrek 2 along with Andrew Adamson and Conrad Vernon, Kelly Asbury knows how to keep things moving at brisk clip, but too many of the visual cues play like warmed over callbacks to past animated hits.
As for that generous John song list, including a couple of new tunes written for the film, despite all the fertile possibilities, most feel like they were dropped in after the fact rather than being cleverly incorporated into this busy but inventively empty garden.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 11 (Touchstone Pictures)
Voice cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine
Director: Kelly Asbury
Screenwriters: Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Mark Burton, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Steve Hamilton Shaw, Kelly Asbury
Based on an original screenplay by: Rob Sprackling, John Smith.
Executive producer: Elton John
Producers: Baker Bloodworth, Steve Hamilton Shaw, David Furnish
Production designer: Karen de Jong
Music: James Newton Howard, Chris Bacon
Editor: Catherine Apple
Rating: G, 84 minutes
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