Review: 'Gnomeo & Juliet'

(Three stars)

Just when you thought you had seen every possible spin on Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," Hollywood plants something fresh in the cineplex: garden gnomes. This charming crowd-pleaser offers a more uplifting take on the Bard's classic tragedy and features excellent animation, entertaining characters and ample humor.

On the verge of Valentine's Day, there's nothing sweeter than a little gnomance.

Two bitter neighbors on Verona Drive, Ms. Montague and Mr. Capulet, argue at every opportunity. Their only commonality is that both have lush, gorgeous gardens -- and a smorgasbord of garden gnomes. But Montague's blue gnomes and Capulet's red gnomes are just as divided as their bickering owners. The blues are led by Lady Blueberry (voice of Maggie Smith) while the reds are run by Lord Redbrick (voice of Michael Caine).

Blueberry's son Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) is a clever daredevil who engages in regular lawnmower races with brutish red gnome Tybalt (voice of Jason Statham). Gnomeo's dislike of the reds seems boundless -- until he sets eyes on Redbrick's enchanting daughter, Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt). Gnomeo and Juliet's serendipitous first meeting happens under the moonlight and the chemistry is palpable for both. Things are about to get very interesting on Verona Drive.

As Gnomeo and Juliet plan clandestine rendezvous in the abandoned yard across the alley, conflict quickly escalates between the red and blue gnomes. Attacks against the others' gardens grow in intensity and brutality, culminating in a knock-down, drag-out war that threatens to rip both gardens to shreds. Love may be the only thing that can mend the broken fences, but we all know how the story of Romeo and Juliet ends ... don't we?

Executive producer Elton John's indelible stamp is all over this colorful family film. The music legend's recognizable tunes are melodically splashed throughout and there are even a few quirky visual references, such as an energetic gnome sporting John's flashy sunglasses. The vocal talent -- made up of mostly British actors -- is impressive and fuels the Shakespearean atmosphere.

A handful of unusual side characters, including a lonely plastic flamingo, a water-spouting frog and a canine-esque toadstool, boost the playful flair. Subtle touches in animation and sound highlight that these gnomes are made of clay or ceramic, adding to the otherwise strained believability.

Some juvenile dialogue and a few silly moments keep "Gnomeo" out of the upper echelon of animated films, and the lackluster 3D is certainly not worth the additional ticket price. But to pass on this delightful family film because of a few minor flaws would be tragic.

Rated G. 1 hour, 24 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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