May 272011
 

The story of Romeo and Juliet is easily one of the best known in the world, and has been both entertaining and saddening romance lovers for nearly 500 years, but how do you re-tell a tale that’s be told so many times before, and gets kids to enjoy an archaic tale of love and tragedy? Make it about garden gnomes obviously.

Like most garden gnomes, Gnomeo and Juliet spend their lives in someones back garden, Gnomeo (James McAvoy, Wanted) is a blue gnome residing in the garden of Mrs. Montague (Julie Walters, Educating Rita), and Juliet (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada) is a red gnome residing in the garden of Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson, One Foot in the Grave); a fact which should make them bitter enemies, as the red and blue gnomes have been competing to have the best garden for years, and are locked in a bitter feud.

Yet despite their inbuilt rivalry, when Gnomeo and Juliet meet by chance in a neighbouring garden, disguised and unaware who one another are, they instantly fall so deeply in love that they decide to ignore their families feud, and keep meeting each other as often as they can.

Ignoring the family ties can prove to be difficult however, and when the tensions between the red and blue factions heat up, its puts an immeasurable strain on Gnomeo and Juliet’s relationship; especially seen as how she is heiress to the red garden, and he is not only the heir to the blue garden, but the one who is often tasked with sabotaging the reds.

Tensions between the red and blue gardens also grow to such unknown heights that not only are lawnmowers being wrecked (in lawnmower races the gnomes often hold) and gardens being ruined, but even prominent gnomes find themselves being smashed as a result of the feud; following the deaths and events of the original play fairly closely.

In fact the whole movie follows the play extremely well; despite the occasional (yet always fitting) alterations needed to have it fit the unusual setting; with not only deaths, but relationships (both romantic and between friends) following the events of the classic tale as closely as any children’s filmic retelling could, yet possibly the best element of the play; the tragic ending; is sadly altered just a little too much (although acknowledging the original work, a park statue of William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare; wonderfully voiced by X-Men’s Patrick Stewart; does explain to Gnomeo how his version played out).

Yet despite the adult misgivings about the new ending, it’s definitely the more suitable option for the kids; who will undoubtedly love it (and likely break down in a ball of tears and snot at one scene involving a lorry and some smashed china), and the film as a whole, because it’s not only a colourful happy-go-lucky tale with some interesting and amusing characters, but a genuinely funny film with plenty of jokes to make even the adult viewers laugh (mainly revolving around the nature of the gnomes, and the voice acting).

One of the most infuriating things for adult viewers however will be the voice cast; as despite being impressive, and containing a wealth of well known actors who are all perfectly suited to their various parts (with the possible exception of McAvoy, who grates just a little too much as Gnomeo), it’s difficult to concentrate on the film when you’re spending the whole movie trying to work out that it is Ozzy Osbourne playing the deer, that it is Hulk Hogan doing the voiceover on the lawnmower ad, and yes, Victor Meldrew is the cranky old man.

For a film born out of a simple pun, Gnomeo and Juliet actually works quite well; it’s colourful and funny enough to keeps the kids interested, and provides a great means of introducing them into the world of Shakespeare (before school eventually pummels it into their consciousness); just don’t go in expecting another classic such as Shrek, or Toy Story; it’s amusing, but highly forgettable.

Picture:

As with the majority of modern animated releases, the colour on the Gnomeo and Juliet Blu-ray release is simply fantastic, striking, and guaranteed to be mesmerizing for the kids. Detail is impressively strong, textures look brilliant, the black levels are superb, and there’s no noticeable noise or compression issues evident whatsoever.

Where this disc is most likely to disappoint is in the 3D visuals; as while the 3D itself will provide a nice novelty for the kids, and is fairly impressive in some scenes, it’s not overly so, doesn’t have the depth of some other releases (such as Resident Evil: Afterlife, or Tron: Legacy), contains the odd touch of ghosting/smearing (most evident in the background), and on the whole doesn’t feel entirely necessary.

The basic picture elements on the disc are faultless, and while the 3D might be a touch disappointing for some viewers it’s still stronger than a number of current releases, and should provide a good deal of fun for the kids, making it well above average, but just shy of that perfect 10.

Audio:

Whilst again there is little wrong with the 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack awarded to the Gnomeo and Juliet Blu-ray; as it’s always clear, features solid dialogue reproduction, some welcome background ambience, and rear channels that become fairly active in the more action-packed sequences; it’s just a little underwhelming, not only does the Elton John soundtrack seem severely forced onto the movie, but the bass is poor, and even when the rear channels do become active, they lack impact; making for a listen that’s more than adequate, but far from impressive.

Extras:

Special features are also lacking somewhat on this release, and comprise of two featurettes revolving around voice actors (those being Extras’ Ashley Jensen as Juliet’s best friend, and Ozzy Osbourne as the deer), a music video for Crocodile Rock (enjoyable for the kids, and any Elton fan), alternate endings (that aren’t worth the time it takes to play them), a 3D trailer, and ads for Astro Boy and Furry Vengeance.

All in all a rather disappointing mix that provides little information about production, the animation process, or the way in which the film evolved from a simple pun into the movie it’s become, and although it does provide a couple of small efforts fans may enjoy, there’s nothing here to amaze anyone.

The Bottom Line:

While the extras aren’t that impressive, the audio is solid and the picture is very strong, meaning the 3D Blu-ray is the right choice for anyone looking to buy Gnomeo and Juliet (particularly as it includes a 2D version); a kids re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet told with garden gnomes and an impressive voice cast that may not be the next Toy Story, but provides a decent amount of entertainment, a few jokes even the adults can enjoy, and a painless introduction to the world Shakespeare.

Matt Wheeldon.