Garden Gnomes Take On William Shakespeare

In the new movie Gnomeo & Juliet, animated garden gnomes fall in love. The gnomes replace Capulets and Montagues in the telling of Romeo and Juliet.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now let's go on to the gold standard for film criticism. Critic Kenneth Turan sees a lot of movies, more than 200 per year, but he says he's never seen anything quite like "Gnomeo & Juliet," opening this weekend.

Here's his review.

KENNETH TURAN: What's in a name, after all? No one could be more surprised than I was to discover that a film called "Gnomeo & Juliet" -that's Gnomeo as in garden gnome - is the pleasantest surprise of the season.

The setting of the film is not ancient Verona but Verona Drive in today's Stratford on Avon. Neighbors Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet certainly dislike each other, but the heavy lifting in their feud is done by dueling teams of blue and red British garden gnomes, headed by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gnomeo & Juliet")

Mr. MICHAEL CAINE (Actor): (as Lord Redbrick) And as leader of this garden, it's up to me to...

Ms. EMILY BLUNT (Actor): (as Juliet) I am a Red, after all.

Mr. CAINE: (as Lord Redbrick) Oh, your fluffers are cultivated as your mother was. Bless her to bits. Now, back where you belong.

Ms. BLUNT: (as Juliet) Ugh. I can't just stay tucked away on a pedestal all my life...

TURAN: Also on board are folks like Ozzy Osborne, Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton. That's a group that doesn't get together every day. And having expert actors like James McAvoy and Emily Blunt voicing their love certainly helps.

"Gnomeo & Juliet" is an inside look at the secret life of gnomes. They freeze in place whenever humans appear, but they're active and animated when flesh and blood individuals aren't around. They tend to their owners' gardens and engage in lawnmower drag races, with the starter role going to Dolly Gnome, voiced by Parton herself.

Equally unexpected is a generous helping of the music of Elton John. The soundtrack makes use of standards like "Crocodile Rock," "Your Song," "Tiny Dancer" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," as well as new numbers written especially for this film.

Playful, inventive and endearing, this 84-minute epic is smart enough not to overstay its welcome as it steers clear of the fatuous and the formulaic. As Shakespeare himself might have put it, 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished - even if it took a pack of gnomes to make it happen.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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