“Two households, both alike in lawn ornamentation..”
And so begins Disney’s first foray into the world ofShakespeare. There were some rumblings years ago about similarities between TheLion King and “Hamlet,” but as far as astraightforward adaptation, this is the first one, and they’re starting out ofthe gate at a respectable gallop.
Not only is the movie almost impossibly entertaining, it's educational too! Atthe end of the movie, ask your son or daughter what years Shakespeare lived and they mayvery well know (1564-1616, watch closely). Also worth noticing is a briefhomage to “As You Like It,” a truly underrated Shakespearean play, and mypersonal favorite. This is a movie that warrants multiple viewings.
I studied Shakespeare in college so I’ll admit that I wentinto Gnomeo & Juliet with sometrepidation. Seriously, they remade one of the most well-known love storiesever created using ceramic and plastic lawn decorations. I’ll grant that it’s not the kind ofthing that will inspire instant confidence among moviegoers, but I’m relievedto report that they pulled it off brilliantly.
So here’s the dramatis personae. Two irritable next-doorneighbors live in two polarly opposite homes, right down to weathervanes thatpoint opposite directions. They’re clearly enemies, but we never learn anythingabout them. The movie is about the little creatures decorating their respectivelawns, and the ancient rivalry continuing amongst them.
A few of the characters retain the same names as in theoriginal story, but a few are changed, like Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), LordRedbrick (Michael Caine), and Bill Shakespeare (get it?). That’s right, theBard himself makes an appearance, voiced by Patrick Stewart, in what has to bethe best cameo of the year, and definitely one of the funniest scenes in themovie ("Told you so!").
But the story is centered on the treacherous love playingout between Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt), who meet in achance encounter that momentarily shields their identities from each other longenough for them to fall in love at first sight. Each is horrified at thediscovery that they other is a member of their family’s ancient enemy, but theyimmediately embark on this journey to convince their respective clans of thefutility of the ongoing war between them before they can destroy each other.
This is pretty hefty stuff for a kids movie. That mayexplain the use of tiny lawn ornaments as characters.
But despite the diminutive cast, the movie brings us rightdown into their world, and their battle is pretty convincing. So much so, infact, that that the youngest members of the audience may have trouble with someparts. I heard one woman leave the screening I attended angrily saying “That isnot a children’s movie!” Frankly I thinkthat’s a ludicrous overreaction, because I know exactly which scene she’stalking about. And even though it did look briefly like the movie wasgonna veer into tragic territory, a few seconds later something else happensthat will have the kids laughing hysterically. You’ll know it when I seeit.
But the story-telling is so brisk, and the animation is sostartlingly realistic, that the movie creates this permeating sense ofwonderment that reminded me of why people go to the movies in the first place.
When I see a movie that’s driven by its special effects,that’s full of CGI imagery that’s there just because it’s possible, it’s just apointless distraction that often negates the entire story anyway. It’s likesomeone bragging about themselves. No one wants to hear that.
But this is a movie that understands that the secret lies inthe details. And this isn’t only true ofanimation, it’s true in all movies. There’s a scene in Braveheart, for example, where a crew member walks right ontothe screen wearing a baseball hat. Kind of kills the atmosphere, know what Imean?
In Gnomeo & Julietthe animation is so real, and the 3D imaging so convincing that you feel likeyou can reach out and pick up one of the gnomes. It’s a tragic irony of 3Dmovies, which are only now emerging from the gimmick stage, that we’ve already become so callously jadedto them that we remember with derision the time when people in the theaterwould reach out in front of them, like they can touch the things coming off thescreen.
But the reason we laugh at that kind of behavior is becauseeven now, decades after filmmakers learned how to make a 3D image come off atwo-dimensional screen, so many movies feel like they have to come to ascreeching halt so a sword or a shark or some other thing can come poking intothe auditorium and we’re supposed to go oooh and ahhh like we think it’s gonnahit us in the forehead.
But watch the details in Gnomeo & Juliet. Watch the way the leaves rustle in the wind. Watchhow the dirt moves, and how smoke and dust billow in the air. Listen to the waythe gnomes’ hands make a clinking sound when they’re clapping, or whenever theytouch, reminding us that they’re porcelain, and that the foley artists aredoing their jobs. Animated movies are almost uniformly outstanding these days,but this is the first time I’ve had the feeling that I’m looking at an exampleof the future of animation.
And that’s to say nothing of the vocal performances, whichare one of the best things about the movie. It’s one of those spectacular ensemblecasts where new voices keep popping up so much that it’s like they’re nevergonna end – Jason Statham, James McAvoy, Hulk Hogan, Dolly Parton, MichaelCaine, Patrick Stewart, even Ozzy freaking Osbourne, for crying out loud.
And it takes a special kind of movie to be able to take suchdiverse talent and put it together in a cohesive and family-friendly story, butwriter/director Kelly Asbury, a Shrek veteran,is carving a comfortable spot for himself in the animation world. See it!
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