Gnomeo and Juliet is exactly the kind of movie you wish for when you're the parent of small children. It's fast, funny and smart enough to tickle the tots and amuse the adults. Think of it as a Shakespearean tragedy with a happy ending.
What else would you expect from Disney? Or, for that matter, from a computer-animated take on Romeo and Juliet in which most of the major characters are portrayed by plaster garden gnomes?
Directed by Kelly Asbury from a script that passed through many hands, this crockery version of the Bard is set in adjoining backyards in suburban London. The Montague lawn is festooned with blue-clad garden gnomes; the neighboring Capulet home is full of red-clad gnomes.
These yards also happen to come with a soundtrack made up of Elton John hits from the 1970s (which makes sense because John and partner David Furnish are among the film's producers). When the humans aren't looking, it's each family to its own garden - except for the lawn-mower races.
That's where the bad blood comes out. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is the ace rider for the blues; Tybalt (Jason Statham) is the jockey for the red - and isn't above cheating. In the ensuing rumble (yes, there are West Side Story references), Gnomeo spots Juliet (Emily Blunt), the strong-willed Capulet daughter who is tired of being confined to her yard by her protective father (Michael Caine).
Shakespearean tragedy is easily tipped into comedy - although with seemingly serious consequences, when a duel between Gnomeo and Tybalt results in Tybalt shattering. Now Gnomeo is being hunted by the reds and needs to hide out. Can he find a way to bring the families together so that he and Juliet can live happily ever after?
Shakespeare says no - literally, as a character who pops up toward the end of this film. But there's nothing wrong with modifying a tragedy into more of a fairy tale, particularly when the plot involves talking inanimate objects.
The animation is spectacular, with or without 3D. The 3D definitely immerses you in the action and brings into stark relief the amazing textures of a world that has been rendered at an astonishing level of photorealism. The action itself is inventive and witty, with slapstick that kids can enjoy and plenty of jokes aimed over their heads at the parents in the crowd.
Another reason Gnomeo and Juliet is a blessing: If your kids are the right age, you'll soon own a copy, which may play endlessly on your television. I have a feeling it will hold up to that as well.