The 32nd Best Movie I Saw This Year: Gnomeo & Juliet

Everyone I saw this with loved it (admittedly, almost all of them were middle schoolers), so I tried to avoid mentioning my disdain. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. I can imagine the conversations I’d have had. 

“It’s cute,” someone says. It is, I concede.
“I liked the frog,” says another. The frog was funny, I agree.
“It’s for the kids,” someone would surely pipe up. You’re right, I’d say, It’s not aimed at me.
“Don’t you like Elton John?” someone accuses. No, I like him a lot, I’d say. I always have.
Someone who knows me a little better might even hit closer to home. “James MacAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant,” they’d say. “Even Ozzy Osbourne’s in this movie. A dream cast for you.” Everything I could ask for, I’d agree.
“Then why didn’t you like this movie?” Someone would finally say.


This movie is a children’s update of the famous tragedy, with two warring families of decorative garden gnomes living side by side, endlessly sniping at each other across the hydrangeas. Things become heated, plaster wells are spray painted, prize flowers cut, and eventually Tybalt is smashed to pieces against a picket fence (he returns during the closing credits, glued back together, for a dance routine. Because of course he does). The whole thing is awkwardly scored by ill-placed Elton John songs (John's longtime partner is a producer on the project). Things are going according to story, as much as they can, given the circumstances.

Now, if you were to be a movie executive tasked with making a version of Romeo and Juliet for children, what’s the first thing you’d ask? Right, the same thing everyone would ask… “doesn’t everyone die at the end? What are we going to do about that?”

Evidentially the producers had that conversation before making this movie. I’m sure they thought it over for a long time, went back and forth on it, worked at it in every direction, had some real arguments, and finally settled on the solution they end up with: 

Gnomeo is thrown into the street, and everyone believes he’s crushed. But instead, it’s just a blue teapot that fell off a passing truck that’s shattered; Gnomeo is still alive. Not long after, Gnomeo finds his way to a nearby park and ends up at a statue of William Shakespeare. They strike up a conversation (really! This happened! In a children’s movie!).

Shakespeare notes that Gnomeo’s story seems awfully similar to a story he once knew, where everyone dies at the end. Gnomeo poo-poos this ending, he even goes so far as to call it “rubbish.” Shakespeare agrees that perhaps another ending might be in order, because, of course, why wouldn’t he?

Having approved his new ending with Shakespeare, Gnomeo heads back to the house, where he’s finally able to reunite with his love and end the feud between the families. I can’t totally remember the details, except that I know it involved lawnmowers.

So yes, if you’re wondering why I didn’t like Gnomeo & Juliet, it’s because Shakespeare arrives to rewrite the ending to make it a happy one. I’m not a literalist, there’s a fair amount I deal with in Shakespeare adaptations. But that one is simply far beyond the pale for me. And if it’s not for you, well then, we probably won’t be friends.