Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)


Yes, I know. Kelly Asbury, director of Shrek 2, is bold for suggesting that moviegoers pay money for yet another version of Shakespeare’s famous play. For many, the majesty of the classic faded after numerous high school projects and reading quizzes. And, even if Asbury can create a respectable version of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps lawn gnomes aren’t the best vehicle, especially when compared to gritty movies like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die (2000).

But, the crew of Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) knew all this. The film’s opening scene features a single gnome who explains that, yes, this story has been told many times before and that, yes, they are going to tell it again. But, this time, it will be different. And it is different. Never before has an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play featured the voices of Ozzy Osbourne and Hulk Hogan (for some reason). Not to mention the whole lawn gnome element.

Gnomeo & Juliet offers a pleasant and simple version of the classic play. The movie follows Shakepeare’s storyline relatively well, which is impressive given the animated cast of gnomes, clay bunnies, and plastic flamingos. Any large diversion from the original script is explained during the movie. In fact, the only questionable use of Shakespeare’s fame is the film’s portrayal of Shakespeare himself. The playwright appears as an oddly unlikable Shakepeare statue (voiced by Patrick Stewart) who, for some reason, doesn’t seem to care much about the lives of lawn gnomes.

If nothing else, the movie sounds fantastic. The smooth and upbeat music of Elton John (one of the film’s executive producers) is sprinkled with the vocal talents of James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Michael Caine, Jim Cummings, Stephen Merchant, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, and Julie Walters. And, of course, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne, and Dolly Parton lend their voices as well.

I recommend Gnomeo & Juliet. It sounds great and it looks great. The first ten minutes or so are a bit awkward and unfunny, but it’s easy enough to pass that time by counting the not-so-subtle allusions to Romeo and Juliet or counting the changes made to Elton John’s songs to better accommodate the lives of lawn ornaments. Make it a drinking game. Just don’t play in the theater.

Indie/Alternative Music in Blockbuster Films

The “Yes Man” soundtrack heavily featured Eels (via

Recently, theaters (and not just the artsy theaters) have offered experiences similar to those gained from chilling in a store’s alternative music section for two hours. This phenomenon is not new, but the status of independent and alternative artists in big-name films has shifted. Now, songs from such artists are highlighted as climactic-moment songs or as songs in movie trailers instead of being relegated to background music for on-screen moments of contemplation.

Before I continue, I offer a disclaimer: I have no education or background that makes me particularly qualified to discuss independent or alternative music. Read this post as one would read the comments section of a YouTube video (approach it with vague interest and hints of cynicism). To eliminate semantically driven debate over “indie” and “alternative,” I will use the labels given to these artists by third parties such as iTunes and

The growing phenomenon of alternative music in blockbuster films first gained my attention when I rented Yes Man (2008) on pay-per-view. The film’s soundtrack heavily features the brilliant music of the Eels. (The only other group on the soundtrack is Munchausen By Proxy, a fictional band featuring Zooey Deschanel and Von Iva.) Eels contributed a total of nine songs to the movie, including “Sound of Fear” and “Flyswatter.” And Yes Man isn’t the only movie to use the Eels’ music: the group also has soundtrack credits on movies such as Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek 2 (2004). Other artists such as Eddie Vedder and Belle and Sebastian have benefited from the popularity of blockbusters as well. Eddie Vedder provided the music for Into the Wild (2007), and Belle and Sebastian’s music appeared in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). The O.C. has used or featured music from Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap, Beck, and Modest Mouse. And Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Grizzly Bear, Muse, OK Go, and St. Vincent, among others, all have tracks on the New Moon (2009) soundtrack. And, recently, Florence and the Machine was featured on Glee (a wonderful episode).

New Moon via

So what does this mean? Nothing, really, except that indie-loving movies such as Juno (2007), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), and (500) Days of Summer (2009) no longer have a monopoly on the use of independent and alternative music. Now, moviegoers are just as likely to hear their favorite independent artist in a film featuring Robin Williams as they would in a film starring Michael Cera. And, given how much Cera’s particular brand of teen angst is starting to annoy me, I consider this a welcome change.

Now, for those of you who are still skeptical about your favorite independent or alternative artist ending up in a blockbuster, consider this trailer of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) featuring “Oh My God” by Ida Maria. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, you must admit that Ida Maria’s song fits this preview beautifully.