Classic Rock

Single White Male

Posted February 10, 2011 in Film

There’s no way to get young kids interested in the plays of William Shakespeare, you might say. However, Elton John has found a way to get their attention. Taking out all the sex and suicide, injecting two catchy new songs amid an array of his all-time greatest hits, then updating the story to focus on star-crossed lovers from warring teams of garden gnomes in modern-day Stratford-upon-Avon, John (as executive producer) and his team of cutting-edge animators have created the animated 3-D film Gnomeo and Juliet.

The story focuses on two factions of garden gnomes—distinguished respectively by their red and blue outfits—inhabiting two neighboring yards. Each has been at war with the other for as long as anyone remembers, largely due to the hate their human owners have for one another.

In the intricate worlds of each garden, laid out in snappy musical montages, live the title characters, who each wonder why their side has to hate the other. They meet and start a secret romance, and just like in the original Romeo & Juliet, things go awry when they are caught together, leading to a series of seemingly tragic events.

The key word here, in this G-rated rendition of the tale, is “seemingly.” For, in keeping with the need to protect young minds from violence while ultimately using the storyline to teach a message of tolerance in an entertaining fashion, John and his talented team reinvent the play’s third act to create a much happier outcome than the original.

While this might upset particularly uptight purists, most people will see that the storyline has not only been rendered with more innocence, but also with a sense of the unexpected.

The film is packed with amusing references to John’s musical career, including a hilarious moment in which a gnome named Benny dances on a computer keyboard while it inadvertently blasts out the opening riff from “Bennie and the Jets,” and another gnome’s twisted take on “Your Song” to describe his nasty cold.

Director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) also handles the frequent action scenes with just the right blend of mischief and danger, while also subtly wringing tears with a montage that details the way a lawn flamingo lost his greatest love in a gripping new John ballad called “Love Builds a Garden,” which ranks with his finest work.
As the lead voices, James McAvoy (Wanted) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) do a fine job, but it’s the rest of the film’s voice actors who add a surprisingly clever aspect to the film. The vocal cast ranges from Oscar-quality actors like Michael Caine and Maggie Smith to Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton, with Parton’s fleeting appearance especially delightful.
Beyond that, the film will also interest adults through the seemingly political symbolism of the war between red- and blue-colored forces. While the frequent references to their colors might seem to be a metaphor for the red state-blue state political divide in America, it is in fact an incredibly prescient coincidence, as John conceived the film’s storyline more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, it still adds a fun extra level to consider.

But in hearing a song like “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” as the rocking soundtrack to a drag race between gnomes riding lawnmowers, or “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” used in a zippy romantic montage, the film becomes so purely enjoyable that one can only wonder why it took so long for rock songs to perfectly fit an animated film and whether there are other stars whose catalogs can do the honors for other cartoons. One can only hope that Billy Joel or The Beatles won’t be far behind.


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