Gnomeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet's star-crossed lovers have provided plenty of fodder for filmmakers over the years, from faithful adaptations to re-imaginings like Westside Story and the MTV-styled Romeo + Juliet. But never has the story been reinterpreted for CGI-rendered garden gnomes. Enter Gnomeo and Juliet, an unabashedly goofy animated adventure that nudges and winks its way haphazardly through the Bard's tale, taking more than a few good-natured liberties as needed.
The action takes place, naturally, on Verona Street, where a certain Miss Montague (voiced by Julie Walters) lives in hostility next to an equally acrimonious Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson). But never mind the humans. Miss Montague's extensive garden is inhabited and maintained by blue gnomes, while a community of red gnomes nurtures the Capulet yard. When no one is looking, the gnomes come to industrious life, busying themselves with extensive (and inventive) lawn maintenance, mower races, various family and romantic relationships, and, of course, despising their rivals.
The Blues hate the Reds, and the Reds hate the Blues, and so (it seems) it shall ever be, until Gnomeo (James McAvoy), son of Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith), meets and falls in love instantly with Juliet (Emily Blunt), daughter of Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine). From there, things get more complicated, and loonier, by the second.
Gnomeo and Juliet has plenty of fun with its Shakespearian roots, indulging in an endless stream of shameless puns (Miss Montague lives in 2B, while Mr. Capulet makes sure to note that his home is NOT 2B) and even allowing Gnomeo to argue plot points with an animated statue of the Bard himself (voiced splendidly by Patrick Stewart). But the filmmakers don't lose site of their target demographic; familiarity with the original story is a bonus for adults but not essential for the film's younger audiences.
My own kids were attuned to more recent inspirations and influences, noting similarities to Toy Story, certain Veggie Tales installments, and Shrek. The comparisons are warranted. The genius of the "animate objects who have to pretend they are inanimate when humans are looking" is definitely Toy Story turf, but it's used to particularly fun effect in Gnomeo and Juliet, especially when the gnomes must pause in the midst of an epic battle to strike imbecilic garden poses in the presence of a passerby.
Gnomeo's unapologetic silliness is reminiscent of Veggie Tales, and it turns out that Starz Animation, the Canadian company who produced 2008's The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything (as well as 2009's visually-stunning 9) is the connection. The team at Starz is to be commended for rendering a vivid, whimsical gnome-universe in which the characters are vibrant and dimensional without losing their "ceramic-ness"—quite an accomplishment. And the 3-D aspect of the film is commendably subtle; Gnomeo and Juliet's colorful world is rich, nuanced, and layered without an over-reliance on headache-inducing gimmicks. The 3-D is in no way essential to this film, but neither is it irritating, and that's an accomplishment too.