Need to amuse the kiddies while you recover from your Friday-night excesses? Gnomeo and Juliet is a remarkably pleasant film to watch with a hangover, featuring tons of Shakespearean in-jokes, garden gnome slapstick and Elton John cameos. It's the sort of film that's funny when you're barely awake, and it won't make your headache any worse, even though it's in 3D.
Read on for spoilers and details — plus a Gnomepunk Manifesto.
There's almost no need to narrate the plot of Gnomeo and Juliet, since you're probably familiar with the source material. But here goes anyway — there are two old people living next door to each other, Mr. Capulet and Miss Montague. And they hate each other — and so do the gnomes in their respective gardens. Whenever the humans are gone, the garden gnomes come to life and take their owners' feud to an insane new level, mostly involving destructive use of lawn-mowers and spray-paint. Until — wait for it — two gnomes from the opposing gardens fall in love with each other.
(Basically, it's a fantasy along the lines of the Toy Story movies — where inanimate objects secretly come to life when nobody's looking, and have an existence that's way richer than that of the dumb humans around them.)
I was as hung over as the lowest head on a trophy wall when I watched this film, and I had non-stop giggles. The mix of stupidity, cleverness, stupid cleverness, cuteness and celebrity cameos was exactly the right thing for my alcohol-shriveled brain. (The critics' screening was at 10 AM on a Saturday morning, so this was actually good test conditions.)
I'm not sure that the kids watching the film got much out of it — do today's kids even know what garden gnomes are? — but who cares about them?
As we've said before, there's really two types of non-Pixar animated films: Ones which are decent but not in Pixar's league (like Despicable Me) and ones which are just wretched and cheap. Gnomeo isn't as good as Despicable, but it definitely belongs to the same category.
Things which make Gnomeo fun for adults to sit through: 1) Random funny in-jokes. 2) The strange obsession with lawn-mowers, culminating in the appearance of a Terminator-inspired super-lawnmower called the Terrafirminator. 3) The voice cast, including James McAvoy as Gnomeo, Emily Blunt as Juliet, Michael Caine as Juliet's father, plus cameos by Hulk Hogan, Dolly Parton, Ozzy Osbourne, etc. 4) The Nurse character is changed into a cute frog, and there's also a plastic toadstool "dog" sidekick. The Friar is a plastic flamingo. Oh, and there are little warrior rabbits. 5) It's actually got a tiny bit of a feminist message.
So how metatextual is Gnomeo and Juliet? Insanely so. The Shakespearean in-jokes are so omnipresent, they almost crowd out all of the nods to 1970s and 1980s pop culture that an animated comedy is required by law to have nowadays. (Almost, but not quite.) The feuding neighbors live at apartment 2B and apartment 2B-with-a-slash-through-it. (They live in weirdly color-coordinated Mock Tudor houses, too!) Every few moments there's another random Shakespeare line or reference, usually turned on its head slightly. And then, just as you're starting to wonder if this film will keep following the Shakespeare play to its somewhat dismal ending, there's an odd interlude where Gnomeo lands on top of a huge statue of William Shakespeare — voiced by Patrick Stewart! — who narrates the ending of Romeo and Juliet to Gnomeo. To which Gnomeo retorts that that's a stupid ending, and he's not doing that.
Oh, and the songs are all by Elton John, and at one or two points, one of the gnomes actually turns into Elton John. I seriously wondered, watching this film, if any of it would mean anything to wee kiddies.
Like I said, this film shoehorns a wee bit of a feminist message into the story, and in the process it makes Juliet a much more lovable character. In a nutshell, Juliet's dad (who once again is Michael Caine!) lost his wife to some kind of gnome-tastrophe, and so he wants to keep Juliet safe — literally on a pedestal, which lights up and has department-store-window-style decorations. He keeps telling Juliet she's "delicate" — which, really, they all are. They're plaster gnomes! — so she has to sneak out of the garden. She puts on a black sock with an eye-hole carved out and transforms herself into a ninja. (A gnomeja!) Her frog sidekick starts speaking Japanese and there are some very silly gnomeja moments.
And when Juliet meets Gnomeo, he's the only guy who wants her to be adventurous and wild — when they're exploring together, they find an abandoned power lawnmower, and she wants to get on it and ride it around. But Gnomeo wants to tell Juliet something — and she thinks he's about to tell her she's too delicate to ride around on a power mower. But instead, Gnomeo tells her, "Don't hold back." And in the end, Michael Caine's desire to keep his daughter on a pedestal nearly destroys her. It's not a bad message for your throwaway kid's movie to have, really.
So all in all, Gnomeo is a cute film that accomplishes its main task of keeping your kiddies amused for 90 minutes, while not making you want to stab yourself. It's actually quite fun, and just about the right flavor of stupid-clever for a hung-over person. (There really should be a word for stupid-clever.) With that out of the way, here's the...
No longer can pop culture subordinate itself to the old ideas and archetypes that have cluttered it for so long. We are rising up! We demand a new vision. We will replace those old norms... with gnomes.
We realized that our cultural and political ideas had become epistegnomelogically unfounded — and all culture, all literature, all escapism, must be reimagined with small rustic men and women at its center. This is the beginning of a movement that will renew culture as we know it — or at least breathe new life into the garden figurine market!
What is society? Society is the garden. Society is the oppressor. Society sees gnomes as immobilized and tatty. For too long, gnomes have been used as sight-gags in quirky comedies about factory-workers-turned-male-strippers. For too long, the world has heaped dirt around the gnome body, until the gnome body and the dirt have become almost indistinguishable. Society has grown rotten with consumerism, but almost no money is spent on gnomes and gnome-related products. [Insert sentence about ecology and gardens and stuff here.]
Who are the gnome punks? We are the forgotten men and women. We are of the garden. Our hats are pointy. We are not Smurfs. NOT SMURFS. Gnomes are liminal — caught between the world of elves and the world of humans, a Gnome Man's Land of contested personhood and hybrid identity. Who can know the gnome self? Gnome one. Gnomes are post-human and pre-human, and pretty much mid-human as well. The gnome is subaltern and exists outside of rigid presuppositions.
The gnome sees things that no normal person sees, because the gnome stays close to the ground. The gnome is a creature of nature, but also of the city. The gnome lives in the compost pile and the compost is raw information. Gnomes understand that decomposition is not mere entropy, but also the birth of ideas. The gnome rejects old standards. The gnomepunk is the outcast in your back yard.
What is gnomepunk entertainment? Within five years, all entertainment will be gnomepunk. Your comedies, your dramas, your action movies, will be gnomed. The artificial binary between human and object will be shattered — by gnomes. Likewise with the human/animal dichotomy. The gnome rejects all false oppositions and replaces them with beards and comedy gardening implements. The only dichotomy that gnomepunk recognizes is between the gnome and the unknown. (Not to mention the gnome unknown.)
Romantic comedies will become gnomantic comedies. All religious entertainment will become Gnostic. Fantasy and science fiction will become mashed up into a gnome-centric alternate history of the world. All of your action thrillers and police procedurals will have gnome-related McGuffins. The gnome is epic. The gnome is personal. The gnome is universal. Gnomepunk is here, and you are in its bottomless hutch. Welcome to Gnomepunk!