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Where to find the in-jokes in "Gnomeo & Juliet"

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Where to find the in-jokes in "Gnomeo & Juliet"

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It's one of the clichés of Oscar time. That someone stands onstage clutching one of those gold statues and then says "I'd like to thank all the little people ... "

Well, this month, the folks at Walt Disney Studios ARE especially thankful for the little people. To be specific, the plastic, ceramic & concrete cast of "Gnomeo & Juliet."

Copyright Miramax Film, NY, LLC. All rights reserved

Why For? Well, Disney had hopes that this Kelly Asbury film would do well over the Valentines Day weekend. But to have "Gnomeo" still going strong three weekends into its domestic release (To date, this CG romantic comedy has sold an estimated $75.1 million worth of tickets) ... That's got the suits back in Burbank over the moon about this Touchstone Pictures release.

As one Disney Studios official told me earlier this week:

"I just wish that we'd known that 'Gnomeo & Juliet' was going to do this well. Maybe then Parks & Resorts could have found a way to showcase this film & these characters at Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival. Ah, well. There's always next year, I guess."

Disney horticulturists put the finishing touches on topiary versions of Buzz & Woody.
Which will make their theme park debut next week with the opening of the 18th
annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Photo by Gene Duncan.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All rights reserved

So why is it that "Gnomeo & Juliet" is doing so well? To be honest, a lot of this film's success has to do with its strong word of mouth. People telling their friends how much they enjoyed all of the clever little touches that the artists & storymen who worked on this Starz Animation production slipped into this movie.

"What sort of clever little touches?," you ask. Well, given that "Gnomeo & Juliet" draws its inspiration for "Romeo & Juliet," is it really a surprise to learn that Kelly & Co. dropped in a few William Shakespeare-related in-jokes. To be specific:

  • In a nod to "Hamlet," Miss Montague's mailbox is numbered 2B, while her rival neighbor Mr. Capulet's mailbox is 2B with a red slash through it ("NOT to be").

Copyright Miramax Film, NY, LLC. All rights reserved

  • "Macbeth" is referenced in a scene in which Juliet is threatened by a bulldog. She slams shut her garden gate and shouts "Out!"-followed quickly by the dog's distant owner yelling "Damned Spot!"
  • Featherstone's shed interior features a ticket stub for "As You Like It."

And speaking of Featherstone ... The name of "Gnomeo & Juliet" 's lovestruck flamingo is kind of an in-joke as well. Given that this character gets his name from Don Featherstone, the original sculptor of this classic lawn ornament (Which was originally made popular back in the 1960s. FYI: You'll know that you have an authentic plastic flamingo - which were manufactured by Union Products in Leominister, MA. - if you look under its tail. Which is where you'll find a replica of Don's signature)

Copyright Miramax Film, NY, LLC.
All rights reserved

And speaking of attention to detail ... The crew that worked on "Gnomeo & Juliet" wanted to make sure that their version of Stratford-Upon-Avon (which is the UK market town that this movie is set in) just right. Which is why the filmmakers made several research trips to south Warwickshire.

Of course, what helped here was that Steve Hamilton-Shaw (i.e. "Gnomeo" 's producer) actually hails from Stratford. Which is why he then became this film's defacto expert to getting the details just right.

Steve was the guy that they turned to when the filmmakers wanted to make sure that the neighborhood looked authentic when that dog raced through Stratford's streets with Gnomeo in his mouth.  Or - for that matter -- making sure that the statue of William Shakespeare which Sir Patrick Stewart voices in "Gnomeo & Juliet" looked just like the one in the park in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Copyright Miramax Film, NY, LLC. All rights reserved

Mind you, some of the in-jokes in "Gnomeo" are nods towards The Walt Disney Company. Take - for example - that t-shirt on the clothesline that Nanette raids when she's looking for a disguise for Juliet. If you look closely, you'll notice that this t-shirt features a Kermit the Frog graphic.

And then there are those in-jokes that only the people who actually worked on "Gnomeo & Juliet" will get. Like how Kelly Asbury voices the Goons. Or how Associate editor Maurissa Horwitz voiced the "Call Me" girl that Benny encounters in Miss Montague's house. Or how Assistant production manager for Editorial Julio Bonet provides the vocals for this movie's now-infamous Mankini Gnome.

And then there are the gags that only Kelly Asbury's friends & family will appreciate. Like how that cement lawn hippo in Mr. Capulet's backyard garden is modeled after the one that the "Gnomeo & Juliet" director has in his own backyard.

Copyright Miramax Film, NY, LLC. All rights reserved

It's the great little touches like this - plus the solid story - that has made "Gnomeo & Juliet" the (to quote the new ad campaign that the Studio's marketing department just rolled out) "Gnumber One Family Film in the Gnation."

Which isn't to say there isn't a downside to "Gnomeo" proving to be a far stronger performer than anyone at Disney ever expected. Given that the Studio is also getting ready to launch "Mars Needs Moms" (which is due to roll into theaters on March 11th) ... Well, Disney now finds itself with something of a marketing challenge. Since it has to do ad buys that help support this Kelly Asbury movie as it begins its third weekend in domestic release while - at the same time - raise audience awareness of Simon Wells' soon-to-open film.

Speaking of "Mars Needs Moms" ... Disney Studios just released some cool behind-the-scenes pictures from the production of this ImageMovers Digital LLC movie. And when I looked at the photo below ... Well, I couldn't help but think that - no matter how much things change in Hollywood - they also remain the same.

Joan Cusack and Seth Green - Mom and Milo at home on Earth.  Photo by Joseph
Lederer. Copyright ImageMovers Digital LLC. All rights reserved

To explain: If you can look past all of that hi-tech performance capture garb that Joan Cusack & Seth Green are wearing (or - for that matter - that cat puppet which the on-set technician is manipulating in the foreground), check out how they're making Joan (who plays Milo's mom in this movie) seem taller than Seth in this scene. By having her stand on a box.

Which is just what Warner Bros. did back in 1942 when  Humphrey Bogart needed to be taller than Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca." They had this 5' 8" movie tough guy stand on a box so that he'd then tower over his 5' 9" co-star so that their love scenes in this Michael Curtiz movie would seem that much more effective. So to see a cutting-edge production like "Mars Needs Moms" have to fall back on an old-school Hollywood trope like an apple box ... Well, that just kind of makes me smile.

Mind you, "Mars Needs Moms" isn't the only movie that Disney is trying to get the word out about these days. Just today, the Studio sent me the one sheet for "Winnie the Pooh" ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... which - you'll have to admit - is a pretty interesting way to promote this Walt Disney Animation Studios production.

But what do you folks think? Do any of these "To Go or Gnot to Go" ads that have been airing on television for "Gnomeo & Juliet" (which seem to be paired with "Mars Needs Moms" commercials) make it any more likely that you'll go out to see this Kelly Asbury film during its initial domestic run?

Or - for that matter - do you think that a stylized poster like the one which I've posted above (which doesn't even feature the logo for "Winnie the Pooh") is a really effective way to market this upcoming Walt Disney Animation Studios release? And - if not - how would you go about promoting "Pooh" ?

Your thoughts?

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  • I feel like we've been seeing Gnomeo articles on this site for like, a decade. What a long development process. What eventually got me in the seat was the advertised Elton John / Lady Gaga duet which was, unfortunately, underwhelming. The rest of the movie was cute enough, though.

  • Two more in-jokes I noticed... "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Movers" as a Hamlet reference and the swan that was seen on the buses as a reference to Shakespeare's Swan theatre. :)

  • Nobody else seems to be spotting one of my favorites, where Gnomeo says "Red? I hate the word...." which Shakespeare die-hards will recognize as an echo of Tybalt Capulet's line from Act I Scene 1, "Peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee..."

    I knew about this movie for a good 4 years, and was anxious to take my kids (we went opening weekend, obviously). It was underwhelming, honestly, but cute.  They didn't put as much effort into it as they could have.  But I'm glad to see it continuing to do well, and hope that Disney takes notice and possibly mines more Shakespeare for future projects.  I've been screaming from the hilltops for them to do a kids' Tempest ever since I've had kids!

  • The reason that Gnomeo and Juliet is the "Gnumber One Family Film in the Gnation", is because, right now,  it's the ONLY family film in the nation. Thanks to Disney's timing, it's got zero competition.

    Sometimes in the movie biz, scheduling is everything.

  • Re:  Pooh, I think that the one sheet is intriguing, given that a Winnie the Pooh movie isn't new, really... instead of making me think "retread," the poster invokes an imaginary tale of adventure... and the character faces say so much as well, by saying so little.  I think the poster is a work of art in and of itself.  I think it's great!

  • Am I the only one that noticed when the two gnomes that were together on one base said "let's split up" which of course could not happen.  The one looks at the other and says "I wish I could quit ya"...from the movie "Brokeback Mountain".

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