Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet -- lovers and feuds

Gnomeo & Juliet Artwork

Director: Kelly Asbury, 2011. (G)

“Romeo and Juliet” is probably the greatest tragedy of all time, with one of the most famous balcony speeches (“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”) Now imagine this as “Gnomeo, Gnomeo” spoken by a ceramic garden gnome in a modern English garden, and you get the gist of this Starz Animation comedy.

I love garden gnomes, probably a peculiarity of my English heritage, and so when I heard this was coming out I had to see it. Moreover, my teenaged daughter wanted to see a family friendly film, so we rented it and were not disappointed. The screenwriters have taken some liberties with the plot, realizing that younger kids might not know the Bard’s tale and might not want such a dark ending. And it works well. Furthermore, with Elton John and his partner David Furnish as Producers, the soundtrack features a number of Elton’s songs, including classics like “Your Song” and “Crocodile Rock”. Elton himself even gets an animated cameo!

Gnomeo & Juliet Publicity Still
The film is set in middle-class Verona Street amidst semi-detached houses, where Miss Montague (voice of Julie Walters) lives at number 2B and Mr. Capula (voice of Richard Wilson) lives at not-2B (nod to Hamlet, another of Shakespeare’s famous tragedies). These two neighbors are at odds with one another, and their houses reflect it being painted blue and red respectively. When the humans are not around, the gnomes come to life (a la Toy Story) to maintain their gardens.

Lady Blueberry rules the blue gnomes while Lord Redbrick leads the red gnomes. Both have a child they care about, each with a strange friend. Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class) has a blue mushroom while Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau) has a talking frog. Of course, the Reds hate the Blues and the Blues hates the Reds. That has been the way of their world for as long as they can remember.

Setting the story in England, director Asbury makes full use of a stellar British voice cast. McAvoy and Blunt are pitch-perfect as the star-crossed lovers. But alongside them are Sir Michael Caine as Lord Redbrick, Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Blueberry, and even Shakespearean thespian Patrick Stewart as the Bard himself. Jason Statham shows up as the macho red villain Tybalt, while rocker Ozzy Osborn voices Fawn. Even American wrestler Hulk Hogan has a cameo, announcing the “terrafirminator” on the internet, a monster lawn-mower.

Speaking of lawn mowers, apart from keeping their gardens spick and span the gnomes enjoy competitive lawn mower races, such as the one where Tybalt challenges Gnomeo.

Gnomeo & Juliet Movie Still
The story, though, takes off when Gnomeo and Juliet meet one another while on a quest to pluck an orchid. It’s love at first sight, a love that cannot be allowed in the midst of a feud. Yet it needs a little help from Featherstone, a pink flamingo missing one leg and his better half, to fan the flames into a blazing fire.

The heart of the film is the feud between the reds and blues. The feud, fueled by hatred, separates two families of gnomes and two young lovers. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Hate brings on more hate and further violence. Love is the medicine that can absorb hate and dissipate its power. God showed us this on the cross (Rom. 5:8). As Satan poured out his hatred on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the love of God absorbed this like water into a paper towel. And despite the apparent victory when Jesus died, ultimate victory comes through the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:54) to a better life, one characterized by love. Turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) is better than killing the other gnome!

When Gnomeo comes to a shattering end, the blues feel a hatred bordering on murder. For them, revenge is the only solution. But with a weapon like the terrafirminator, victory will devolve into mutual assured destruction, that concept from the nuclear-threatened cold war. Neither side will emerge happy victors.

Vengeance is a terrible thing. That is why it should be left in the hands of a God who can control it. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” he said in Romans 12:19. When we seek to pay back our enemies, we are pouring gasoline onto the fire, escalating the violence. Instead, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). That is the message that we can glean from Gnomeo and Juliet, amidst their tragic devastation.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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