GNOMEO & JULIET Director: Kelly Asbury Starring (voices): James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
After all these years of watching CG-animated characters with creepy-pasty skin and dead eyes, at last come characters creepy enough in their own right to fit the motif -- garden gnomes.
Wouldn't you know, that by the time somebody dreamed up the gimmicky Toy Story rip-off Gnomeo & Juliet, the form would have advanced far enough to remove the possibility of even that morbid pleasure?
Canada's own Starz animation actually does a pretty good job breathing life into the creepy little doofuses, though as I say, they would have been more effectively and starkly rendered had they displayed the soul-deadness of Tom Hanks in Polar Express.
Beyond that, what is there to say about a movie that beats its eccentric premise to the ground in the first scene, and doesn't stop? (These kids today, they just love their Shakespeare jokes). And what is there to add about a 3D kidflick in which the back catalogue of its producer, Elton John, is recycled in every way possible, as soundtrack and as musical accompaniment (imagine Your Song with the lyrics clumsily rewritten as a paean to gnome love).
So yeah, there's the troika of everything these kids today love right there -- Shakespeare, garden gnomes and Elton John.
The story begins on, ahem, Verona St., where occasionally seen feuding neighbours Miss Montague (Julie Walters) and Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson) exchange their morning harrumphs and leave their respective English-style-decorated yards to the belligerent antics of their garden gnomes -- red motif on one side, blue on the other.
As in Toy Story, this exo-human world reverts to its normal inanimate state in the presence of humans -- a bit that starts to look like an animated improv class after a while, when battling gnomes must freeze in position.
Blue boy Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is the de rigueur cartoon rebel, who gives "the vapours" to his mom Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith) by having lawnmower races against his red-side enemy Tybalt (Jason Statham). Happenstance leads him to make eye contact with Juliet (Emily Blunt), the spirited daughter of Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine). And then stuff happens.
It should be said that Elton seems to have called in a few favours for voice talent on this thing. The likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Hulk Hogan are along for this as well, but few of the cameos are worth mentioning. An exception: Patrick Stewart, who draws on every ounce of his Royal Shakespeare Company blood in playing a statue of the Bard, giving the film a last-act narrative to remind us what it's about again.
Not that children will care much about the source material, nor the Shakespeare jokes it took nine writers to write. They will be diverted by the action scenes, from racing to all-out warfare, all rendered with kinetic verve, and by the movie's one dark edge -- the ever-present threat of smashing.
In between? You may encounter a bit of child squirmitis, and perhaps some loud, puzzled questions about what the heck a garden gnome is, anyway.