Animated 'Gnomeo & Juliet' harvests star-crossed formula

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Note to slacker students: "Gnomeo & Juliet" may borrow extensively from Shakespeare's tragedy, but, as you might expect with a G-rated movie about lovestruck animated gnomes, it changes the ending.

On the other hand, if you're a student of political science, it gets the whole red state-blue state rivalry quite right. Animosity blooms in the red and blue gardens owned by, respectively, Mr. Capulet and Miss Montague, on Verona Drive.

'Gnomeo & Juliet'

2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt.
  • Rating: G.

They live side by side and their gardens are alive with gewgaws: whirligigs, wishing well, lawn ball, pond, concrete fawn, bunnies, a fish concealing a hose in its mouth, a toilet tank housing a wisteria tree and a gaggle of gnomes who variously clutch a plastic red rose, fish all day and night, lean on a mushroom and garden shovel, or simply look oh-so-darn cute.

"Gnomeo & Juliet" follows the "Toy Story" formula: If toys can come to life when no one's looking, so can garden gnomes. The Reds and Blues engage in NASCAR-style lawn mower races on the sly, always taking care to freeze if any humans come close.

One day, Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) asserts herself. "I can't stay tucked away on this pedestal all my life. I'm not delicate," she declares before embarking on a mission to snatch a beautiful orchid blooming within her sight.

That is how the Red Juliet meets and is smitten with the Blue Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy).

"Oh Gnomeo, oh Gnomeo. ... Why must you wear a blue hat?" she asks. "If dad finds you, he'll bury you under the patio," she warns him.

That doesn't deter these lovebirds who are befriended by a lonely pink plastic flamingo but find themselves in an escalating feud that has one minion vowing, "A gnome for a gnome ..."

Like those bursting yards, "Gnomeo & Juliet" has something for everyone, with Elton John songs, a back story for the flamingo, an appearance by The Bard and two dozen voices ranging from Michael Caine as Juliet's father and Maggie Smith as Gnomeo's mom to Dolly Parton as a gnome variation of herself and Hulk Hogan as the voice of a $10,000 lawn mower.

Although gnomes have their detractors, such as British church officials who consider them "unnatural creatures" that must be banned, they are more popular than ever. They figured into "The Full Monty" and a Travelocity campaign and are sprouting in tasteful Pittsburgh garden shops at this very moment.

Although "Gnomeo & Juliet" borrows Shakespearean themes and pop culture references, it skews much younger than other animated movies of late such as "Megamind" or even "Toy Story 3."

With a screenplay credited to seven writers, it's as busy as the twin yards on Verona Drive and not as funny as you might hope. Its love story almost gets lost in the fussing and feuding and deflowering of the gardens.

The 3-D here is unremarkable and darkens the picture slightly; unless money is no object, I wouldn't pay the extra to see it that way. Parting with money is such sweet sorrow, but this will do just fine on a wintry afternoon.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at First Published February 11, 2011 5:00 AM


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