The Seasoned Ticket #50

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

The English director Joanna Hogg has attracted critics’ love with her new film, The Souvenir, an autobiographical memory-film about a rocky love affair in the 1980s. I’m on board: here’s my review of the film, which opens this weekend.

And my review of her previous picture, Exhibition, also a difficult-to-parse but rewarding film.

By the way, I made the mistake of reading through some “Audience Reviews” of The Souvenir on Rotten Tomatoes. We’re all doomed.

Meanwhile, another British creative force, Sir Elton John, is chronicled in Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman. In honor of this landmark (the movie is zany and pretty fun, actually), I present my review of Gnomeo & Juliet, the animated film about garden gnomes, for which the former Reginald Dwight contributed songs. Originally published in February 2011 in the Daily Herald.

 

Gnomeo & Juliet

Ponder, if you dare, the strange collection of influences on an innocuous-sounding animated film called Gnomeo & Juliet.

The title suggests a kooky Shakespeare variation. Add the design element of garden gnomes, a campy retro decision that strongly suggests pink flamingoes cannot be far behind. Throw in the fact that the director did the jokey, sarcastic Shrek 2. And the songs are by Elton John, who makes a cameo appearance as a weathervane, or something.

You know, the movie almost had me there for a moment. But how did Elton John get hooked up with this, and how do these pieces fit together?

The answer to the second question is, they don’t. Gnomeo & Juliet is a charmless piece of animation. As for Sir Elton, who has always borne a passing resemblance to a gnome himself, one can only guess it had something to do with penning new tunes and recycling classic songs of the past. You know—in a story that adapts Romeo and Juliet for garden fixtures.

Two lawns, separated by a wall, are divided into gnome tribes by the color of their peaked caps: the blue-hatted gnomes hate the red-hatted gnomes, and vice versa, for reasons that have long since passed into distant memory. Bluehat Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) falls for Redhat Juliet (Emily Blunt), their families freak out, and much lawn destruction ensues. This is all punctuated by songs, including “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Crocodile Rock” (the latter with the word “Chevy” expunged in favor of a non-specific automobile reference).

McAvoy and Blunt, it must be said, have adorable voices. Their characters are not quite so winning, perhaps because garden gnomes are peculiarly unattractive creatures (apologies to enthusiasts, but try sitting and looking at them for 90 minutes in 3-D closeup).

Other voices include old pros such as Michael Caine and Maggie Smith, and a few unexpected types, such as Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne. Patrick Stewart lends his voice to a statue of Shakespeare, who comes along in time to give the movie a rationale not to end the story the way he ended it. Because that version, as you may recall, had a rather tragic windup.

In order to avert the saddest animated film since Bambi, the filmmakers have switched that around in favor of a message about peaceful co-existence. Fine; I wasn’t expecting straight Shakespeare. But this odd comedy fails in too many other ways to justify the effort.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

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