While the 2011 computer-animated film Gnomeo & Juliet wasn’t the most revolutionary take on that William Shakespeare play, it was also far from a shambles. In fact, it was rather cute and endearing. James McAvoy and Emily Blunt had an easy chemistry as the two eponymous leads, gnomes who enjoyed an illicit love affair despite belonging to rival gnome gangs busily scheming on opposite sides of a garden fence. Nonetheless, how many of us really clamoured for a sequel?
In any case, we’ve ended up getting one – and with both Gnomeo and Juliet and their familiar voice actors back, it probably wouldn’t be a spoiler for us to say that, in the first film, they didn’t meet the grisly fates of their Shakespearean counterparts. However, after relocating from Stratford-upon-Avon to London, they have suffered a rupture in their previously harmonious relationship.
The culprit? The new garden; by the disgruntled Gnomeo’s reckoning, Juliet is unjustly paying more attention to it than to him. Cue many scenes of Gnomeo being uncharacteristically petulant and bickering insistently with his porcelain paramour. This tension is dramatically shattered like terracotta when the couple return to the garden after time away and realise that all of their gnome co-inhabitants have gone. Who better to investigate the mysterious disappearances than Sherlock?
Yes, it’s a gnome version of Sherlock – a pompous git called Sherlock Gnomes – that we’re talking about here. That Johnny Depp provides the voice is puzzling; the American brings little to the role except a plummy British accent that a home-grown actor surely could have delivered just as well. Sherlock clashes with his sidekick Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and jilted ex-fiancée Irene, who serves scant purpose here besides letting her voice actress Mary J Blige sing an all-new song.
The first film had quite a few clever little touches, like Shakespeare himself as a talking statue and the snarling menace Tybalt depicted in a more sanitised light. However, the sequel is largely shorn of such creativity. Perhaps the closest it gets is with Moriarty, Sherlock’s arch nemesis. Here, he resembles a small, yellow version of the ‘Stay Puft’ man from Ghostbusters – and is played deliriously by Jamie Demetriou, who gives a voice reminiscent of a creepily demented Alan Carr.
All the same, the first film’s touching love story provided a soft centre that is sorely lacking this time around, given the near-relentless snappy exchanges between the characters. Meanwhile, broadening the scenery to London’s busy streets makes for a wild goose chase bringing to mind too many other, better films. An unexpectedly stunning climax centred on Tower Bridge does slightly make up for it, but still leaves us with a Toy Story wannabe that is little to write gnome about.