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Movie Review: 'Gnomeo and Juliet' a gentle retelling of Shakespeare's classic

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“Gnomeo and Juliet”
Directed by: Kelly Asbury
Starring the voices of: James McAvoy, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Jim Cummings, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne
Rated: G

Cinema scholars cite Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet” as the most filmed play of all time. There are three versions from the silent era, the earliest which dates back to 1900. In 1936, George Cukor directed the first version of “Romeo and Juliet” with sound.

In 1996, visionary director Baz Luhrmann adapted the play in a rather unique fashion. While he used Shakespeare's original dialogue, the setting was rife with muscle cars instead of horses and automatic firearms instead of swords. The throbbing industrial rock soundtrack added to the post-modern feel as Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes depicted the star-crossed teenaged lovers. This version is the highest grossing Shakespeare film to date.

Countless other films - from Peter Ustinov's cold war satire “Romanoff and Juliet” to “West Side Story” to “Love is All There Is” - have used the story as a blueprint.

The latest version of the classic comes by way of director Kelly Asbury's witty, sweet and fantastic-looking animated feature, “Gnomeo and Juliet.”

Why “Gnomeo”? Simple. The characters involved, members of the Redbrick and Blueury clans, are garden gnome statues residing in the backyards of quarreling neighbors Miss Montague (Julie Walters) and Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson). In one of the many tongue-in-cheek nods to the original tale, the neighbors live in a large duplex at 2B and not 2B Verona Drive in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The Gnomes - the Blueburys as Romeo's Montague family and the Redbricks as Juliet's Capulets - do their jobs standing as statues, decorating the gardens - until no humans are around. When alone, they come to life. They frolic and they feud.

Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) is the son of Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith), and Juliet (Emily Blunt) is the daughter of Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine.)

After Gnomeo loses a rigged lawnmower race to Tybalt (of the Redbricks), he decides to sneak over to the red side to exact some revenge. At the same time, Juliet disguises herself and attempts to sneak into blue territory to pluck a beautiful wildflower she's seen growing atop the Bluebury's greenhouse.

The two cross each others' paths and it is - as you might suspect - love at first sight. Unfortunately, the feud between the gnome clans prohibits their union, and Lord Redbrick has already decided that Juliet is to marry Paris (Stephen Merchant.)

From here, the story plays out much in the fashion of Shakespeare's play, but the principals are represented by numerous odd characters. Juliet's confidant, Nanette, is a lawn ornament frog with a Cheshire Cat grin and a soap opera sentimentality when it comes to romance. Romeo's sidekick is a ceramic mushroom. And then there's Featherstone. He's a Cuban-accented lawn flamingo who counsels the young lovers in their trials and tribulations - and the joys - that accompany every affair of the heart.

There are some strange deviations in the tale here, most notably the lawnmower
races. After losing the first one, Gnomeo commandeers a “Terrafirminator,” a mower so powerful it proclaims - with the voice of Hulk Hogan - “Your lawn will be afraid to grow!” Dolly Parton makes a brief appearance as lawn ornament Dolly, and Ozzy Osbourne voices a character named Fawn.

You have to ask yourself, did you ever figure to see a movie that includes classical actors Dame Maggie Smith and Michael Caine supported by Ozzy, Hulk and Dolly? Patrick Stewart has a cameo as the voice of “Bill” Shakespeare who is, here, a statue of the bard.

Elton John is credited as an executive producer and also has supplied the soundtrack with classic hits co-written with his long time lyricist Bernie Taupin.

The pair also composed two new numbers for the film. The songs, and orchestral arrangements of them, are a perfect backdrop to this rather upbeat version of what originally was a tragic love story. To keep the younger viewers from being traumatized by the demise of lovable ceramic yard gnomes, “Gnomeo and Juliet' eschews Shakespeare's gruesome (yet tragically beautiful) ending and the young lovers remain alive. Except when humans are around and they must freeze in place.

The film is in 3D and, as stated in this column before, I'm not a fan of the format. It gives me a headache and causes motion sickness. But I'll admit, this is the most unobtrusive use I've seen of the gimmick, and it's used judiciously.

“Gnomeo and Juliet” is a sweet, gentle and amusing retelling of a classic.[[In-content Ad]]

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