Romeo and Juliet. Garden gnomes. Elton John. Disney. One of these things doesn’t belong – and surprisingly, it’s Disney. “Gnomeo & Juliet” is an animated retelling of William Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet,” set on two opposing side-by-side gardens in the UK. But while the journey from “two star-scrossed lovers” to tragedy(?) is somewhat cleverly re-imagined in the film, the overall picture feels more like an extended music video than a feature-length motion picture.
Since I didn’t review “Gnomeo & Juliet” when it was in theaters, this article acts as both a review of the film itself as well as the Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD releases which hit store shelves today.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” – Movie Review
The tale of “Romeo and Juliet” has been told time and time again, in many forms. “Gnomeo & Juliet” realizes that, a bit too much. From the moment the film begins, its self-referrential humor screams, “We know this is a bit strange. Just bear with us and have a laugh.” Unfortunately, solid laughs are few and far between throughout the 84-minute runtime. The bizarre tone set at the very beginning of the film, with a red-hatted gnome being yanked off stage as he attempts to read aloud Shakepeare’s prologue, continues throughout, leaving audiences wondering if the goal of “Gnomeo” is to spin “Romeo and Juliet” in a new way or if it’s simply an excuse to make bad gnome puns for an hour and a half.
It’s easy to see why Walt Disney Animation, under new creative control of Pixar head John Lasseter, decided to pass on this project, leaving Executive Producer Elton John (yes, that Elton John) scrambling to find a new home for it. The film was intended to be a Disney-branded movie, but its off-beat humor and rather self-indulgent tone never quite gels with the usual Disney feel-good vibe. Despite ultimately being released under the Touchstone banner (one of Disney’s labels, so still technically a Disney film), “Gnomeo & Juliet” plays more like a DreamWorks picture. Though that should be no surprise as it was directed by Kelly Asbury, who also directed “Shrek 2.” The emotion packed into any Disney or Pixar film is simply nowhere to be found in “Gnomeo,” even absent from its scenes that are meant to be touching. And knowing this film’s history of internal conflict with Disney, the many Disney references found throughout the film (Muppets, Spider-Man, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and more) become all the more awkward.
But all is not lost for “Gnomeo.” Where it fails as a comedy, it excels as a musical. While technically nota musical in the strictest sense of the word, the film relies heavily upon Elton John’s popular catalog of music. (Did I mention he’s the Executive Producer?) Not only are variations of John’s songs included as background tunes throughout, but John has also sung two entirely new songs for the film, including one duet with Lady Gaga (credited as Stefani Germanotta). Moreover, familiar melodies from some of John’s classics are woven into James Newton Howard’s score. Howard, by no coincidence, used to be in John’s band.
In fact, John called in a few pals to help make “Gnomeo” as good as it could be, with friend Michael Caine lending his voice talents to one role. The music of Elton John doesn’t entirely fit with the story of “Romeo and Juliet” but it does offer much-needed pep to the film that otherwise plods along (though does feel rather self-indulgent at times). And in the end, fans of “Shrek” will enjoy the DreamWorks-like sing-along finale musical number.
As a retelling of the most famous Shakespeare tale, “Gnomeo & Juliet” barely succeeds. But as a light-hearted, music-filled animated movie, “Gnomeo” somehow holds itself together to become a movie that is not great, but not all bad either. It’s a middle-of-the-road film that will hold audiences’ attention without wowing anyone, but will leave toes tapping along the way.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” – 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD
Unlike recent reviews, it’s entirely unnecessary for me to separate this home release review into the usual categories. Like the film, the home release is exceedingly average. Video quality is exactly what’s expected out of a computer animated film. High-definition video on the Blu-ray versions is crisp and clear with vibrant colors.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” makes more obvious use of the 3D Blu-ray format, with “cheap 3D tricks” scattered throughout the film, from the opening sequence to the grand finale. In fact, there are so many shots obviously rendered with 3D in mind that watching the movie in 2D leaves the feeling of missing out on part of the film.
The 7.1 audio track is used sparingly, with only a handful of scenes featuring surround sound effects. Not surprisingly, the majority of the noticeable surround sound is used during the many Elton John songs featured in the film. Vocals and duets swirl around the sound space immersing listeners in an enjoyable way. Ignoring the film’s visuals and plot, these musical moments will be entertaining for any Elton John fan.
Bonus features are short and to the point. The main bonus feature, “Elton Builds a Garden,” unsurprisingly follows Elton John through his journey to make this film, from early conflicts with Disney to its eventual completion overseas. John and his collaborators smile through the featurette but it’s clear they’re bitter about not having the power of the Disney name on the film. More bonus features are devoted to other voice actors, including the “Fawn of Darkness,” Ozzy Osbourne, whose presence in the film goes entirely unnoticed. The promised “Crocodile Rock” music video featuring (who else?) Elton John and Nelly Furtado is misrepresented, as the compilation of film and recording studio clips fades out before the song concludes.
Overall, this home release of “Gnomeo & Juliet” will be most enjoyed by Elton John’s biggest fans, who will love hearing his new tunes mixed in with classics throughout the film. Anyone who is not a John fan may still like the movie, but will often find its self-referrential, self-indulgent tone to be a bit overpowering to be fully enjoyed. It is not a gnome-run. (Sigh.)
“Gnomeo & Juliet” is now available for purchase in the following release formats: