There have been many innovative adaptations of William Shakespeare’s work from page to screen. Julie Taymor blended elements of classicalism and modernism in her screen adaption Titus (1999) – based on Titus Andronicus – and Australian director Baz Luhrmann adopted a romanticised modern setting for his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1996).
Adaptations of Shakespeare’s work allow room for creative freedom and when accomplished successfully, the results can be magnificent. Cue Gnomeo & Juliet (2011), a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet through the medium of animation. Only rather than humans, the film utilises garden gnomes, the music of Elton John and a shed load of talent. The film takes place in Stratford-upon-Avon, a nod to Shakespeare’s birthplace. Here, there is a red house, occupied by Mr. Capulet, and a blue house, occupied by Ms. Montague. Consequently, the gnomes that ‘live’ in the respective gardens adopt the houses colour code and the owners’ hatred for their neighbour, and it is through these gnomes the story is told.
The film begins with a gnome walking out onto a stage and stating, ‘this story has been told many, many times before. We are going to tell it again.’ The gnome commences to read the prologue and is hastily ejected from the stage for the film to begin. Even from the outset, Gnomeo & Juliet is problematic, frustratingly unfaithful to its base text and one of the worst animated films to come out this decade. Interestingly, the film has rounded up a large group of vocal talent that includes Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Matt Lucas and Ozzy Osbourne. Even with the attachments of these big names, the film’s story and script makes the talent esoteric.
The actors are voicing archetypal roles from their past films. Jason Statham voices Tybalt, a hard man with a bad attitude, alluding to the actor’s body of action films. Patrick Stewart voices a statue of William Shakespeare, an incredibly frustrating bit part that alludes to the actor’s extensive Shakespearean roles. Stephen Merchant also appears, voicing an awkward gnome, Paris, alluding to the actor’s nerdy appearance and awkward manner. Whilst this aims to achieve an endearing, familiar feel it does quite the opposite. The film comes across as stereotypical and boring.
The use of Elton John’s music is also unnecessary. It does not sit well within the film and its very existence in the film is confusing. The film contains such Elton hits as Your Song, Rocket Man, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word and Crocodile Rock. The latter is used at the end of the film for a mass dance number, as all the gnomes rejoice in their new found love for each other, celebrating Gnomeo and Juliet’s love. How this is represented through Crocodile Rock, we will never know.
Surely the whole point of Romeo and Juliet is the loss of its two protagonists. It is through this loss that the two families really see how their feud has hurt those closest to them. The film begs to differ. Their demise is only felt for a few minutes, conveniently long enough for a ceasefire to be called, before they are brought back for a good old sing and dance at the end.
If anything, Gnomeo & Juliet’s ending has more in common with the terrible ending of the am-dram version of the play depicted in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007). It seems clunky, out of place and a bastardisation of the original text; yes, this is a children’s film and double gnome suicide could easily be the impetus for years of therapy. But why adapt a classic, tragic tale for children at all? Truly, Gnomeo & Juliet has to be regarded as one of the worst Shakespeare adaptations of all time, and sorry seems to be the hardest word for defiling perhaps the classic play.