Published Feb 10, 2011Being perhaps the first direct adaptation of Shakespeare's work specifically for children in animated form a few questions arise about the unflatteringly titled Gnomeo & Juliet. Chiefly: how do they handle the double suicide? How do they deal with quarrels that end in death? And how do they make energized family fun from a story about horny, overly sheltered teenagers?
While potentially disastrous, the answers to these questions are all surprisingly satisfying and conscious of both the source material and the intended youth audience. They don't shy away from thorny subject matter, but don't revel in it or go to inappropriate places either, focusing instead on a fresh, propulsive narrative with consistently witty writing.
The premise is ostensibly the same as the original play, only limited to backyard garden gnome shenanigans, with the blue Montagues feuding with their red Capulet neighbours via various territorial pissings and the occasional lawnmower race for temporary supremacy. Once the geography and dynamics are established – quite thoroughly and cleverly, I might add – Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) meet while mutually running covert missions in an uninhabited neighbouring lawn, falling in love instantly only to discover their respective lineage after the fact.
With flawless 3-D animation utilizing dimension more so than showy gimmicks, this thoroughly entertaining comedy maintains a very specific aesthetic and tone that serve it well. Even though there's suggestive comedy about the how pointy a potential suitor's hat might be, the humour avoids scatological traps, remaining in the realm of clever banter, in a Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit fashion.
These wordplays and puns permeate every scene for the adult audience, referencing the original text through signage (the Capulets live at 2B, while the Montagues live at Not 2B), often acknowledging viewer familiarity with the text, while the action, animation and sheer playfulness of it all keep the story invigorating for the kiddies. Quite simply, this may be the perfect family film for anyone tired of superheroes and monsters. (eOne)