In Home Viewings - "Gnomeo and Juliet"

Recipe for gnome-related family fun:
Take William Shakespeare's most famous play, Romeo and Juliet;
Replace "Romeo" with "Gnomeo" (leave Juliet as it is) and turn our star-crossed lovers into garden gnomes;
Replace "Montagues" and "Capulets" with "blues" and "reds";
Add in some quality if unspectacular animation;
Change the disturbing finale to something a little more kid friendly;
Top it off with some killer music;
And voila, you've got a decent enough animated adventure to serve as your child's primer for the most depressing and seriously inappropriate piece of literature that their future high school English teachers are likely to shove down their throats! (Seriously, of all the great works that Shakespeare wrote, why is Romeo and Juliet the one that gets so much pub? Give me MacBeth or Julius Caesar any day.)

I don't have kids of my own but when I watch a kid's movie, one of the qualities I look for is a wide-ranging appeal. Meaning, if my hypothetical child demanded to see a given movie, would it make my soul scream to sit through it or would I be able to find some enjoyment? The best of the best, like everything from Pixar (minus Cars 2 which I think we can all agree should be stricken from the record), How to Train Your Dragon, and the better Disney films, are excellent films on their own accord; it just so happens that their target audience are youngsters. The worst of the worst, like Alpha and Omega and Hoodwinked Too (it hurt me to even type that title), are so bad that even smart toddlers bemoan their failures. Gnomeo and Juliet plants itself firmly in the middle ground and that's good enough in my book.

The people behind Gnomeo assembled quite a brood of voice actors, including James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, and Michael Caine (though perhaps Caine shouldn't be included in that list as I'm pretty sure he would narrate my home movies if I could come up with a million dollars). Too often a big name cast like this ends up becoming a distraction in an animated film but in this case, each actor does a solid job of meshing with his or her persona. I also rather enjoyed the cameos that popped up throughout the film. Anytime you can cast Hulk Hogan as a monster lawnmower, I say go for it. The story is as lighthearted as a tale about two teenagers who destroy their families in the name of puppy love (I really don't like Romeo and Juliet if you couldn't tell) and the pace is quick enough to keep a kid entertained and an adult (I guess that would be me) from losing the will to live. Plus, a soundtrack that is heavy on Elton John never hurt anything, right?

There is a real lack of comedy in Gnomeo, however, and maybe that's what keeps it from becoming anything better than what it is. Sure, there are humorous moments but nothing that strives for "laugh-out-loud" funny or that would really get either kids or adults rolling in the aisles. Everything about this film is very safe, serving as a paint-by-numbers type of kid's film that isn't special because it never attempts to be special. And hey, there's nothing wrong with that. I'd much prefer a safe, straight-down-the-middle children's movie over one that tries to make the sexual reproduction of two mismatched wolves into a family outing. (Also, Marmaduke. Enough said.) Gnomeo and Juliet is mildly enjoyable and relatively entertaining for kids and adults alike and since that's clearly all it is striving to be, I'm willing to accept that.

Grade: B-