Adaptations are risky business. For one, audiences already know the basic story and so are not as eager to hear it told again. For another, those who do want to hear it again do so because they love the original. They love the plot, the setting, the characters, the themes, or the way in which the story was told – or a combination of said things. Changing the plot? Horrors! Updating or moving the setting? Scandalous! Eliminating or altering characters? The outrage! Basically, adaptations have only their changes as selling points, so they had better be good ones.
And thus we bring you William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet…in the modern English suburbs – starring garden gnomes!
Gnomeo and Juliet, directed by Kelly Asbury, is a delightful twist on Shakespeare’s original play. It contains dozens of subtle and not-so-subtle references to Shakespeare plays so that even if you only paid the bare minimum of attention in high school English class, you will be amused and think yourself quite clever. (Or else you will groan, because you hate puns…)
Really, a play written over four hundred years ago and studied in high schools for the past sixty or more needs few adaptations. Moreover, in order to ensure that your adaptation is thoroughly enjoyed, you need something beyond “we’ve modernized it!” or “we’ve retold it like a historical drama!” Modern writers have retold Romeo and Juliet using robots, zombies, and vampires, to name a few.
But garden gnomes?
In fact, Gnomeo and Juliet take all the comedy of the first half of Shakespeare’s actual play and then it just keeps the laughter going. The sentient garden gnomes are human-like enough to be sympathetic and relatable, but just inanimate enough for adult audiences to remain emotionally detached from the drama. Instead, the whole tragedy is seen for what it is – namely silly, petty, and unfortunate. Luckily, the film keeps its comedic feel without sacrificing the poignancy and the message of the original play. After all, garden gnomes may die, but they can be put back together. Like a classic tale, they are permanent and enduring.
Like most modern retellings of Romeo and Juliet, the message of this film is that love is better than hate – particularly unjustified, petty feuds – and that hatred causes much more collateral damage than anyone realises (the humans in this film find that out quite literally in the final moments of the film). The film reinforces this message for children in their formative years (along with dancing lawn ornaments) and reminds adults just how petty our differences often are. After all, if even our lawn ornaments hate each other, things have gone too far indeed.
Also, this film has a stellar voice-cast who are well-aware of how much fun this film is supposed to be, and the music is danceable without being corny. This isn’t a movie that kids are going to be singing ballads from, but it is one they are going to laugh at. So will their parents – but must importantly, so will any adults with enough humility and wonder to watch garden gnomes remind us of how important love is.