Judge Gordon Sullivan is out back, spying on his garden gnomes.
A little adventure goes a lawn way.
Of all of Shakespeare's many plays, Romeo and Juliet seems to have the most to offer to those looking to adapt one of the Bard's plays to a time and place not used in the original. Although it has a specific locale (Verona), it lacks many of the determining historical markers that make it difficult to adapt say Henry V. In fact, all the would-be adaptor needs to make the most of Romeo and Juliet is a pair of young lovers and a feud of some kind. This simplicity has lead to such classic adaptations as West Side Story. Disney had some luck with the basic story, borrowing some of it for High School Musical, so it's no surprise they've gone back to the well to give viewers Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated take on the star-crossed lovers. The result is a tried-and-true family formula movie that provides enough in-jokes for parents and enough colorful action for the kids.
Facts of the Case
The Montague and Capulet are feuding, and their back gardens share a wall. In those back gardens live two tribes of gnomes: red for the Capulets and blue for the Montagues. Like their respective owners, the gnomes (who only come alive when humans aren't around) are in the midst of a huge feud, fueled by who has the best garden. Gnomeo (James McAvoy, Atonement) and Juliet (Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria) are caught between the feuding families, on the wrong side of the fence. With the feud escalating, only their love can hope to conquer their families' hate.
Although it's one of Shakespeare's most adapted works, the basic story isn't his. He likely took the plot himself because it was already so successful with audiences. That success is mirrored here. The basic plot of the feud provides a ready made tension, the two young lovers offer up a whole heap of romance, and numerous garden statuary abound for comic relief. All this adds up to a certain built-in success with the younger crowd. The humor isn't too crude, nor the plot too complicated for little ones.
For the adults, the film provides the charm of an old story well told. The conceit of using garden gnomes is a funny one, and including details like lawnmower races ups the visual and narrative level to an impressive degree. Fans of Shakespeare will enjoy the film's occasional references to the Bard's work, whether in titles (when a moving company uses As You Like It for a name) or dialogue (when one character says "out, out" and another says "damn Spot"). There's also a little bit of dialogue designed to appeal only to adults (like the occasional references to the size of a gnome's hat when discussing his suitability as a romantic partner).
Fans old or young can appreciate that Gnomeo and Juliet (Blu-ray) was spared no expense in the trip to the big screen. The level of visual detail, the beauty of the animation, and the clever choices in design are impressive from first frame to last. Behind the scenes, filmmakers made excellent use of casting to get this film done. Disney has the bucks to get the big names, and expect to be listening closely for familiar voices in more than just the principle roles. Of course the principles, people like McAvoy, Blunt, Michael Caine, and Maggie Smith, are their usual impressive selves, but we also get appearances from the likes of Hulk Hogan and Patrick Stewart (I mean, c'mon, how often do those two share a review?). My favorite, by far, is the casting of Ozzy Osbourne as a cute little fawn.
This Blu-ray release lives up to the film's impressive technical specs. The movie began in the digital realm, so it's no surprise that this 1.85:1 AVC encoded transfer looks spectacular. Fine detail is very strong, colors and bold and bright, and there are no serious artifacts to be found. The audio is equally impressive, with a strong 7.1 DTS-HD track that keeps everything from the loudest musical note to the softest voice perfectly clear. Surrounds are used effectively, especially during action sequences and music, while dialogue comes through clearly in the center channel.
Extras start with three featurettes, covering some of the voice acting, casting, and music. Then we get a pair of alternate endings in storyboard form, followed by 45 minutes of deleted scenes. Finally, we get a music video (for an Elton John/Nelly Furtado track) that's essentially a promo for the film, along with the theatrical trailer
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is only the 2D version of the film, so those looking for the full 3D version of Gnomeo and Juliet should pick up that release. Also, this release could have stood a few more extras. The extensive deleted scenes are nice, but there's less than 10 minutes of making-of material here, which is a little disappointing.
As for the film itself, the musical aspects were fairly disappointing. The new music from Elton John was fairly generic (and far from his best work). The use of his music otherwise (including tracks like "Rocket Man" and "Crocodile Rock") doesn't really fit with the film. Those moments weren't completely jarring, but they never achieved the kind of synthesis that jukebox musicals go for. It feels like Elton John's involvement was purely a marketing move, like having his name on the box would sell more copies. It's not a total backfire, but his presence adds surprisingly little to the film.
Purists might gripe that this is not a tragic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and no one really dies in the end.
Gnomeo and Juliet fits comfortably into the mainstream Disney mold. It's not a flat-out masterpiece, but it is head-and-shoulders above their direct-to-video sequels. It'll certainly tide kids over until the next big Pixar release, and will hopefully get more youngsters into the work of Shakespeare. This Blu-ray release is pretty easy to recommend, with a strong audiovisual presentation and enough interesting extras to make owning the disc worthwhile.
These star-crossed lovers are not guilty.
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