The latest slice of 3D animation to emerge from the Disney stables is this cute retake on the classic Shakespearean tragedy. As you'll already gather from the posters, trailers and never-ending stream of gardening puns, the star-cross'd lovers in question are actually ceramic gnomes who occupy adjoining gardens.
Gnomeo, voiced by James McAvoy, is a blue gnome; Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt (who came on board when Kate Winslet pulled out) is a red gnome. In an echo of recent events at Stamford Bridge, the Blues and the Reds are sworn enemies who don't take it too kindly when one of their rivals appears on the other's patch. It's against this backdrop that Gnomeo and Juliet first meet, instantly fall for each other and thereby shatter the uneasy truce that exists in the gnome world.
Directed by Kelly Asbury ('Shrek 2'), 'Gnomeo & Juliet' has already attracted headlines on two fronts. The first is the fact that the movie has been produced by Elton John and David Furnish. Indeed, if you're not a fan of Elton John, you'll find this one hard going as the soundtrack is filled with his songs, including an instantly forgettable duet with Lady Gaga. The second headline-grabbing element of the movie is the voice cast. In addition to young British stars such as McAvoy and Blunt, the line-up includes such eclectic talents as Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Hulk Hogan, Jason Statham, Dolly Parton and Ozzy Osbourne. While some of these choices (Caine, Smith and Patrick Stewart as the voice of Shakespeare) make sense; others are tokenistic. Dolly and Hulk make fleeting contributions, while Ozzy, bless 'im, is utterly unconvincing in the role of a Bambi-like fawn.
If the choice of voice cast is aimed at an older demographic, 'Gnomeo & Juliet' is not one of those smart animated movies that works on various levels. A few Bard references aside, this one is aimed squarely at kids and they will find much here to enjoy, notably the lawnmower races (echoes of 'Rebel without a Cause'), quirky array of garden characters (notably Ashley Jensen's frog) and general mayhem. For everybody else, however, it's a case of 'Much Ado about Little'.