Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Touchstone edition. Gnomeo and Juliet

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Gnomeo and Juliet

Year: 2011

Source materials : based on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Budget: $36 million

Box office: $194 million

Plot: In Stratford-upon-Avon, elderly neighbors Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet despise each other. When they leave their respective gardens, their garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments come alive. The Montague garden is filled with Blue-hatted gnomes led by Lady Bluebury, and the Capulet garden with Red-hatted gnomes led by Lord Redbrick, who share their owners’ feud. In a back alley lawnmower race, Lady Bluebury’s son Gnomeo competes against his Red rival Tybalt, who cheats to win by destroying Gnomeo’s lawn mower.

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That night, Gnomeo and his best friend Benny infiltrate the red garden in disguise to take revenge by spray-painting Tybalt’s mower, but Benny accidentally triggers a security light. During their escape, Gnomeo ends up in a nearby garden and bumps into a disguised Juliet, daughter of Lord Redbrick, attempting to retrieve a unique Cupid’s Arrow orchid. Romantically fighting over the flower, they discover each other’s color before fleeing. Juliet tells her frog-sprinkler friend Nanette about her newfound love, which Nanette declares romantically tragic but agrees to keep their secret.

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Gnomeo and Juliet continue to meet secretly in the nearby garden, where they encounter a pink plastic flamingo named Featherstone who encourages their love. Lord Redbrick pairs Juliet with a Red Gnome named Paris; uninterested, Juliet distracts him with Nanette, who has feelings for him. Lady Bluebury is distraught after the Reds infiltrate the garden and destroy the plant nurtured by Gnomeo’s late father. The Blues urge Gnomeo to take revenge on the Reds, and is about to spray their prized tulips when Juliet sees him, and he backs out of the attack.

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At their next meeting, Gnomeo and Juliet argue until Featherstone stops them, telling them he lost his wife when the couple living in the garden’s house broke up and they each took a flamingo. Benny sees them and runs into the alleyway, unbeknownst that Tybalt is waiting with his lawnmower; he attempts to run Benny down, and chops off his hat. Gnomeo intervenes, and he and Tybalt fight until the lawnmower runs into the wall, shattering Tybalt. The Reds attack Gnomeo, believing him responsible for Tybalt’s death, and Gnomeo ends up in the road. A blue teapot falls from a truck passing Gnomeo, leading everyone to believe Gnomeo was run over. Juliet expresses her love for Gnomeo and attempts to walk out onto the roadway, but Lord Redbrick, who lost her mother, stops her and has Juliet’s feet glued to her tower.

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Gnomeo’s mushroom friend, Shroom, discovers that Gnomeo is still alive, carried off by a dog to a nearby park. He and Featherstone reach the park where Gnomeo climbs onto a statue of William Shakespeare and tells him his story. Shakespeare declares Gnomeo’s tale similar to his own story of Romeo and Juliet, and that it is likely Gnomeo’s will have a tragic ending as well.

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Benny uses Miss Montague’s computer to order a powerful Terrafirminator lawnmower, seeking revenge on the Reds. The Terrafirminator arrives and initially works well, but goes out of control, destroying both gardens, and gets itself stuck while the gnomes wage a full-scale war. Gnomeo returns to Juliet with Featherstone’s help, but the Terrafirminator frees itself. Gnomeo is unable to un-glue Juliet, stuck in the mower’s path, and they share a passionate kiss as the lawnmower crashes into the tower and self-destructs.

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Realizing the consequences of their vendetta, Lord Redbrick and Lady Bluebury end the feud. Gnomeo and Juliet emerge from the ruins as the two clans celebrate. Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet come home to find their backyards a mess.

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The Red and Blue gnomes create a new garden and celebrate their newfound peace. Paris and Nanette are in love, Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry become best friends, Tybalt is glued back together, Featherstone is reunited with his wife after Benny finds and orders her online, and Gnomeo and Juliet are married on a purple lawnmower, symbolizing the new union of both gnome clans.

Background: The film was the original idea of Rob Sprackling and John Smith, who sold the spec script to Disney through Rocket Pictures. Disney studio chairman Dick Cook greenlit the film, under the Disney-owned Miramax Films. Miramax was later sold by Disney in 2010, but the latter studio retained the rights to the film. Starz Animation produced and animated the film. Disney Australian director Adam Elliot was approached and asked to direct the film, but he rejected the offer due the film’s incompatibility with his style, as well as his lack of experience with CGI.

Kelly Asbury got on board in 2006, and was attracted the movie in order to work with Elton John. Asbury and Hamilton Shaw then rewrote the film “sort of from scratch.” A particular challenge, according to Asbury was how to differentiate the ending between the original play and the movie in order to “keep daggers and poison and suicide out”.

Changes from the Source Material:(other than being garden gnomes) There is no counterpart to the characters of Mercutio or Prince Escalus. No one dies, as even Tybalt is repaired.

Music: The score was composed by Chris P. Bacon and James Newton Howard. The film features several songs by Elton John, including a duet with Lady Gaga called “Hello, Hello.” It also features the song “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” by the Sherman brothers.

Voice Cast: Sir Patrick Stewart returns as William Shakespeare. Sir Michael Caine returns as Lord Redbrick. Jim Cummings returns as Featherstone.

James McAvoy as Gnomeo. He appeared in Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, Shameless, Arthur Christmas, Bollywood Queen, Inside I’m Dancing, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Last King of Scotland, Band of Brothers, Atonement, and Wanted. He played Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool 2, and Dark Phoenix. McAvoy starred in Filth, Split, Glass, His Dark Materials, and It Chapter Two. Emily Blunt as Juliet. She made her feature film debut My Summer of Love, Gideon’s Daughter, The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Adjustment Bureau, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods, Mary Poppins Returns, Sicario, The Girl on the Train, and A Quiet Place.

Jason Statham as Tybalt. He appeared in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, The Transporter trilogy, The Italian Job, Crank, War, The Bank Job, The Mechanic, Spy, Mechanic: Resurrection, The Expendables, Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7, The Fate of the Furious, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Bluebury. For her work on the London stage, she has won a record six Best Actress Evening Standard Awards: for The Private Ear, The Public Eye, Hedda Gabler, Virginia, The Way of the World, Three Tall Women, and A German Life. She received Tony Award nominations for Private Lives and Night and Day, winning for Lettice and Lovage. She has won two Academy Awards, for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and California Suite. She has won a record four BAFTA Awards for A Private Function, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, and Tea with Mussolini. She received four other Oscar nominations for Othello, Travels with My Aunt, A Room with a View, and Gosford Park. She played Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series. Other notable films include Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Death on the Nile, Clash of the Titans, Evil Under the Sun, Hook, Sister Act, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, The Secret Garden, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and The Lady in the Van. She won an Emmy Award for My House in Umbria, and starred as Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, on Downton Abbey for which she won three Emmys, her first non-ensemble Screen Actors Guild Award, and her third Golden Globe.

Ashley Jensen as Nanette. She was nominated for an Emmy for her role on Extras. She appeared in Ugly Betty, Accidentally on Purpose, Agatha Raisin, and A Cock and Bull Story. Stephen Merchant as Paris. He was the co-writer and co-director of the British version of The Office and co-writer and co-star of both Extras and Life’s Too Short. He appeared as a Caliban in Logan.

Ozzy Osbourne as Fawn. He rose to prominence during the 1970s as the lead vocalist of the band Black Sabbath, and as a solo artist. He became a reality television star, in The Osbournes, and Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour. Matt Lucas as Benny. He appeared in the series Rock Profile, Little Britain, Come Fly With Me, and Doctor Who. He has also appeared in Alice in Wonderland, The Infidel, Bridesmaids, Small Apartments, and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Hulk Hogan 1 as Terrafirminator Announcer. Between 1977 and 2003, he was a professional wrestler for the WWF (now WWE) and the WCW. Hogan appeared in Rocky III, No Holds Barred, Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny and the television shows Thunder in Paradise, Hogan Knows Best and China, IL. Dame Julie Walters as Ms. Montague. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Educating Rita and Billy Elliot. Her other film credits include Personal Services, Prick Up Your Ears, Buster, Stepping Out, Sister My Sister, Girls’ Night, Titanic Town, Calendar Girls, Wah-Wah, Driving Lessons, Becoming Jane, Mamma Mia! and its sequel, Brave, Paddington and its sequel, Effie Gray, Brooklyn, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and Mary Poppins Returns. She played Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films. On stage, she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress for the 2001 production of All My Sons.

Richard Wilson as Mr. Capulet. He played Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave and Gaius in Merlin. Films include A Passage to India and The Man Who Knew Too Little. Dolly Parton as Dolly Gnome. Parton made her album debut in 1967 with Hello, I’m Dolly. She has 41 career top-10 country albums, a record for any artist, and she has 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. She has garnered ten Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, ten Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Parton has received 47 Grammy nominations. Film include 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Rhinestone, Steel Magnolias, Straight Talk, and Joyful Noise.

Director Kelly Asbury appears as the Red Goon Gnomes.

Critical Reception: Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal gave it a positive review, “This lively little film, a comic take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, is really entertaining.”

  • Ty BurrFeb of the Boston Globe says “It has its own bizarre charms and a breezy confidence that renders it the very definition of a simple pleasure.”
  • Justin Chang of Variety writes “A welcome dose of honest silliness at a time when most family-oriented toons settle for smart-alecky.”
  • Tasha Robinson from The A.V. Club criticizes the film “Far too much of the film is devoted to eye-rolling pop-culture gags and long montages set to recycled Elton John songs.”

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Sequel: A sequel titled Sherlock Gnomes was released in 2018, with Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer distributing and producing the film, and was a critical and commercial disappointment in contrast to the original film.

My take: There are a lot of fun nods to Shakespeare’s work. It’s a fun film. I have no interest in watching the sequel. 

Available on Disney +?: no

Next Week: We’re going to steal The Declaration of Independence