Red gnome Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) and blue gnome Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) are the the star-crossed lovers in this animated backyard version of Shakespeare’s classic tale of love.

Red gnome Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) and blue gnome Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) are the the star-crossed lovers in this animated backyard version of Shakespeare’s classic tale of love.

Shakespeare takes to the backyard

So let me get this straight; Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, presented by garden gnomes? With Elton John tunes? I think my teenage daughter said it best in referring to whichever think tank came up with this idea with a “what, were they drunk?”

I’ll give Gnomeo & Juliet this much, it is cute. Kinda creepy too. But then, personally, I’ve always found garden gnomes a wee bit creepy.

The set-up goes something like this. Separated by a wooden fence in the English suburbs, two warring clans of magical lawn ornaments — it says Montague and Capulet on the respective mailbox of each home, one side decorating their backyard in characters adorned in blue, the other red — provides the unlikely setting for romance. Blue hero Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and team Red’s stone maiden Juliet (Emily Blunt) find love amidst a vicious feud. We’ve seen the story again and again and again and again and again. And again. Certainly enough to know that this is awfully unusual material for a children’s movie.

And, if memory of the Bard’s work serves me well, this has traditionally been a rather depressing story, especially that end part when both lovers, um … well … die. Not to give away any spoilers, but simply to reassure parents of little ones, Gnomeo & Juliet does not drop the curtain on two crushed ornaments.

But Thybalt, voiced — or rather, menacingly whispered — by tough guy Jason Statham, does have an unfortunate meeting with a brick wall, leaving the story’s antagonist in pieces.

An eclectic mix of stars lend their vocal talents to Gnomeo & Juliet, including Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart (who provides the pipes of a statue of Shakespeare himself, one of the film’s few clever bits), Ozzy Osbourne (whaaa?) and Hulk Hogan (double whaaaa?). And then, there’s the Elton John score. Yeah, I don’t get it either. And please tell me those weren’t Brokeback Mountain and American Beauty references. Eeeps.

I guess it’s a cuddly way to introduce kids to Shakespeare. But then what? Troll dolls do Hamlet?

Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Gnomeo & Juliet a two. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.

Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.