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Long-in-development "Gnomeo and Juliet" finally arrives in theaters on February 11th

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Long-in-development "Gnomeo and Juliet" finally arrives in theaters on February 11th

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So now that "Tangled" has restored moviegoers' faith in Walt Disney Animation Studios, which toon is going to cash in on all of this Mouse-related good will?

Oddly enough, it's a project that WDAS abandoned back in 2006, only to then be resurrected by Miramax Films in 2008 and then - on February 11, 2011 - get released to theaters under the Touchstone Pictures' banner.

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

Yeah, "Gnomeo & Juliet" has had a rather convoluted production history, to say the least. But by that same token, this has also been a project that Mouse House management has repeatedly resurrected over the past decade. If only so Buena Vista Records  then wouldn't miss out on the chance to release this animated feature's virtually-guaranteed-to-go-platinum soundtrack.

"And why was that?," you ask. Because "Gnomeo & Juliet" was (Slight spoilers lie ahead. Proceed at your own risk) supposed to be built around Elton John & Bernie Taupin's song catalog. Which meant that this whimsical retelling of William Shakespeare's romantic tragedy was going to feature sequences that would be staged to classic tunes  like "Crocodile Rock," "Rocket Man," "Tiny Dancer," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)."

Keep a sharp eye out for the Elton John-inspired gnome that makes a cameo appearance
in this animated feature. Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

You have to admit that that sounds like a very marketable gimmick to build an animated feature around. Rocket Pictures President Steve Hamilton-Shaw certainly thought so when he got "Gnomeo & Juliet" set up at Disney back in 2001. But while veteran WDAS story artists repeatedly took runs  at John R. Smith & Rob Sprackling's screenplay, trying to change this admittedly intriguing premise into the sort of film that Walt Disney Pictures could actually release ... Well, that's when "Gnomeo" slipped into development hell.

As one Mouse House insider who actually worked on the WDAS version of this film explained it to me:

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

"We could never quite get the balance of story elements right with 'Gnomeo & Juliet.' This film was supposed to be a parody of Romeo & Juliet. But at the same time, we wanted the audience to actually care about these lawn gnomes and what they were going through. And on top of that, we were being told to shoehorn in as many Elton John songs as possible.

What we eventually wound up with something that was long on whimsy but really short on heart. There were individual bits, characters and sequences that were great. Really fun. But the story as a whole didn't hold together."

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

That's what John Lasseter thought, anyway, when he came through the door back in early 2006 as the new Grand Poobah of WDAS. Which is why he almost immediately put "Gnomeo & Juliet" into turnaround. Only to then have then-Disney-Studios-Chairman Dick Cook move this animated feature over to Miramax Films. With the hope that a little dash of  edge (which was what Miramax had been noted for back when Harvey and Bob-Weinstein used to run this division of Disney Studios) would be all that was needed in order to finally pull this project together.

My WDAS insider pal continues:

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

"That was a really smart move on Cook's part. What kept tripping up 'Gnomeo & Juliet' was that we kept trying to turn it into a Disney film. Something that wasn't quite as quirky as this material needed to be, that was aimed more at a mainstream audience. Whereas at Miramax, they could actually embrace the fact that this was a quirky piece of material. They could then mix together the gnomes, the Shakespeare parody and the Elton John music and then not have to worry about whether mainstream audiences would actually buy into the whimsy of the thing."

Mind you, it didn't hurt that they brought Kelly Asbury to helm "Gnomeo & Juliet." As his co-directing efforts on "Shrek 2" proves, Kelly was an expert when it came to mixing parody with sincerity. To get big laughs out of a character one minute, and then turn on a dime and make that very same character worthy of an audience's sympathy the next.

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

And Asbury - working with veteran Disney producer Baker Bloodworth as well as the very talented folks at Starz Animation Toronto - has reworked "Gnomeo & Juliet" has a very English sort of comedy. Which isn't set in Verona, Italy anymore. But - rather - on Verona Avenue in a typical English suburb. Where the Montagues and the Capulets aren't warring Italian families. But people who each own one half of a duplex.

Mind you, Mr. Montague is a big fan of blue. Which is why he drives a blue car, has the trim on his side of the duplex painted bright blue, and - more importantly - uses blue gnomes to decorate his lawn & garden. Whereas Ms. Capulet ... She loves the color red. Which is why she droves a red car, has the trim on her half of the duplex painted bright read and (you guessed it) decorates her part of the lawn & garden with red gnomes.

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

Now what Mr. Montague and Ms. Capulet don't know is that - when they're away - the red gnomes and the blue gnomes come to life. And the faction that's led by Lady Blueberry (voiced by Maggie Smith) ...

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

... and the group that follows Lord Redbrick (voiced by Michael Caine) ...

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

... are constantly battling because ... Well, no one quite knows why or when this feud started. But it's been going on for years at this point. With the red gnomes & the blue gnomes always trying to prove that they're the best at bizarre back alley sports competitions. And as "Gnomeo & Juliet" is getting underway, Lady Blueberry's son, Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) ...

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

... has been challenged by the Red Garden's champion, Tybalt (voiced by Jason Statham).

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

What the strong-willed Gnomeo doesn't realize is that Lord Redbrick has an equally strong-willed daughter, Juliet (voiced by Emily Blunt) ...

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

... and when these two meet one night (to the tune of a brand-new Elton John & Bernie Taupin ballad, "Hello Hello." Which - FYI - has already been recorded as a duet for this film's soundtrack by Sir Elton and Lady Gaga) ... That's when things start to get interesting.

Now don't go into "Gnomeo & Juliet" and expect a beat-for-beat retelling of the story of Romeo & Juliet. I mean, sure. Some of the characters for the original Shakespeare play do make appearances in this animated feature.  But in "Gnomeo & Juliet," Paris has been reimagined as this bespectacled master of topiary. Whereas Juliet's nurse is now known as Nanette (voiced by Ashley Jensen)  ...

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

... this frog-faced lawn sprinkler who thinks that story, no matter how small or insignificant, can be turned into a tragic romantic epic.

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

But you'll find new characters in "Gnomeo & Juliet." Like Fawn, the foul-mouthed concrete lawn deer (voiced by Ozzy Osbourne) who sides with the gnomes from the Red Garden. As well as Benny (voiced by Matt Lucas), Gnomeo's impetuous best friend. Who seems to have been named Benny so that the filmmakers then have an excuse to stage a musical sequence to that old Elton John / Bernie Taupin standard, "Bennie and the Jets."

And did I mention that William Shakespeare himself - in statue form - also shows up in "Gnomeo & Juliet" ? And that - thanks to Patrick Stewart's plumy vocals - then gets to comment on the action?

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

But as for any other changes that "Gnomeo & Juliet" 's filmmakers may have made to Shakespeare's romantic tragedy, I think that - when you finally get to see this Touchstone Pictures release on February 11th ...

Copyright Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved

... the ends justify the means.

But what do you folks think? Given the back story on "Gnomeo & Juliet," is this the sort of animated film that you'd be interested in seeing? More to the point, do you think that it's a smart move on the Mouse's part to release this romantic animated comedy three days before St. Valentine's Day?

Your thoughts?


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  • Wow, this is a Disney film? I would have never guessed.

    I know I'm late to the party but I saw Tangled for the first time this past weekend(Which btw, am I the only one who loved the film but hated the music?) and this trailer was playing in front. Didn't really stick out to me and honestly it looked pretty average.

  • NO, NO, NO!!! This is not a WDAS film. Very misleading and when this film bombs, we don't need anyone thinking this is a Walt Disney Animation Studios Film. It's in the vein of "The Wild" and "Valiant." The next Walt Disney Animation Studios Film is "Winnie the Pooh." Disney crew may have worked on it, but Disney it is not. Way to set back the movement!

  • The Weinsteins left Miramax in 2005... they didn't have any 'edge' to impart as they had left to form The Weinstein Company. Get your facts right.

  • Okay. I don't care what anyone says. I kinda like this.

    At least it's not more talking animals or a rehash/revival/reboot of a dead TV show or franchise. It's truly something different, with clever ideas behind it. I think I'm gonna see this one.

  • Ozzy Osbourne as a foul mouthed lawn deer......

    That alone is worth the price of admission!!!

  • This looks HORRIBLE

  • Gotta say I'm getting flashbacks of R&J Sealed with a kiss.

  • I always laugh when they allude to this film way back when in the commentary for Toy Story 2.

  • This looks more like a Shrek film rather than a Disney film. Cheap laughs and no heart.

  • James McAvoy? I'm THERE...

  • Amazing cast! Looking forward to seeing it. And who can resist a James McAvoy gnome?! Not me.

  • Who else thinks this movie ends like Music Land?

  • Who elses sees this as just another Jim Hill fawning about the non-Disney animation while trashing EVERYTHING that Disney does?

  • Miramax CGI? Hoodwinked II baby!!

    But seriously, who wouldn't want yet another Romeo and Juliet story? Which is likely why they're releasing it in February, because it's just so dang good!

  • I personally think this movie "Gnomeo and Juliet" might just surprise people and that it will be far better than expected.

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