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'Gnomeo and Juliet' Is Family Fun

In this G-rated movie, duels become lawn-mower races.

Editor's note: 'At the Movies,'  launching today, will be a weekly feature on Lower Macungie Patch. Let us know if you agree with our reviewer -- or not -- in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you.

Gnomeo & Juliet

I’ll admit it. Requesting “One for Gnomeo & Juliet," did make me cringe, just a little. I’m all for kids’ movies – well, Pixar ones, anyway – but I didn’t set the bar too high for a film centered on ceramic garden gnomes.

Shame on me. Has John Lasseter taught me nothing?

Gnomeo & Juliet (in 3-D, of course) was clever, heart-warming, and often, hilarious. I LOL-ed throughout, and I’m not prone to LOL-ing. Maybe because I hate the term.

As the title implies, the storyline is borrowed from William Shakespeare’s epic tragedy, but don’t worry, parents. The Bard’s sexy, bloody story has been purified to comply with the movie’s G-rating.

Duels become lawnmower races. Where Romeo and Juliet consummated their relationship between the sheets, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and his fair bride (Emily Blunt) share a chaste gaze and pledge to build their own garden together. Even the sting of Tybalt’s death – by smashing, as it were – is alleviated when we see the gnome, glued back together, dancing in the final scene. 

But back to the beginning: At the top of the film we find ourselves looking upon a duplex on Verona Street, in the charming city of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. Half is adorned in blue, the other half in red. The mailboxes read Montegue and Capulet. As the camera pans over the homes, two lush, gnome-filled gardens are revealed. Much like the characters in “Toy Story,” these petite sculptures come to life in the absence of a human gaze.

The feud between Red and Blue is quickly established as we hear Lady Blueberry (voiced by the iconic Maggie Smith) lambasting her red-capped neighbors. “Red?” Gnomeo replies. “I hate the word.”

The film is laced with these kind of subtle tributes to “Romeo and Juliet” as well as other famous Shakespearean characters, and fans of classic literature will have fun spotting as many as they can. Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” even gets its own nod, when Gnomeo finds himself hiding from Lord Red Brick (Michael Caine) in the pool that surrounds Juliet’s “grotto.”

Much of the play’s comic relief stems from Juliet’s nursemaid, and the same humorous dynamic is captured in Nanette (Ashley Jensen), a frog/fountain who walks that Pixar-esque line of dual comedy: Nanette does enough funny voices and physical gags to keep the kiddies laughing, while also sneaking in quips for the adults. When Juliet returns breathless from her first encounter with Gnomeo, for example, Nanette is quick to ask about the size and shape of the gnome’s … hat. “Big” and “pointy,” is the reply.

 Towards the end of the show – Um, I mean movie – this reviewer started to wonder how things would end for this doomed couple. Surely they wouldn’t stick to the original ending? This predicament is brought to light as Gnomeo has his own “Shakespeare in the Park” experience and chats with a park statue of the Bard himself.

So how does this incarnation end? “Never was a story of more woe” than of Juliet and her Gnomeo? You’ll have to see it to find out.

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