Genre: CG Animation
Director: John Stevenson
Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Stephen Merchant, Mary J. Blige, Johnny Depp
Runtime: 1 hr 27 min
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 15 March 2018
Synopsis: The beloved garden gnomes from GNOMEO AND JULIET are back for a whole new adventure in London. When Gnomeo and Juliet first arrive in the city with their friends and family, their biggest concern is getting their new garden ready for spring. However, they soon discover that someone is kidnapping garden gnomes all over London. When Gnomeo and Juliet return home to find that everyone in their garden is missing – there’s only one gnome to call… SHERLOCK GNOMES. The famous detective and sworn protector of London’s garden gnomes arrives with his sidekick Watson to investigate the case. The mystery will lead our gnomes on a rollicking adventure where they will meet all new ornaments and explore an undiscovered side of the city.
‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ was a mildly amusing animated riff on the timeless Shakespeare tale told with garden gnomes and Elton John songs, but rather than invent their own sequel, the same creative team behind that modest 2011 hit has decided to transport their characters into yet another revisionist take on a literary classic. It’s not hard to guess exactly which from the title, and to their credit, the same tongue-in-cheek wit from their previous movie combined with the intrigue of a good-old detective story and some Holmes-Watson odd-couple chemistry makes for an even more delightfully irreverent comedy.
As befitting its new character additions Sherlock Gnomes (voiced by Johnny Depp) and Gnome Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the setting has been moved to London, with our former star-crossed lovers Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) and their families calling a new but much smaller garden their home. Sensing a timely opportunity for succession, Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) and Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith) anoint their children Gnomeo and Juliet the new leaders of the red and blue gnome communities (talk about nepotism, one of the gnomes scoffs!). That responsibility begins to consume Juliet with the task of preparing the garden for spring, and her preoccupation means Gnomeo feels inadvertently ignored.
After a relationship talk with a Scottish-accented garden frog Nanette (Ashley Jensen) some may recall from the last film, Gnomeo decides to break into a flower shop to steal the prized Cupid’s Arrow Orchid – again, for those who remember, that was the flower both were ogling when they first met each other. Alas his burglary attempt goes south, prompting a just-in-time rescue by Juliet, but the even bigger shock is that the entire community is kidnapped while they are away. Turning up in their garden at that exact moment they return is none other than Sherlock, who introduces himself as the sworn protector of garden gnomes; turns out that he has been investigating a string of such kidnappings across London, suspecting it to be the work of his arch-nemesis Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), imagined here as a devilish orange-coloured ‘Fat Boy’ balloon.
An extended prologue before the opening credits depicts their last confrontation at London’s National Gallery, which presumably ended when Moriarty was crushed under the weight of a life-sized dinosaur exhibit. Nevertheless, the series of puzzles on the back of calling cards with the letter ‘M’ by the kidnapper suggests otherwise. Refusing to leave Sherlock and his trusty associate to do their sleuthing on their own, Juliet insists to tag along, and so with Gnomeo, the quartet follow a string of clues across London to track down the kidnapper and rescue the gnomes. Among the highlights of their madcap adventure are: an encounter with a whole posse of ‘lucky cats’ led by Ken Jeong’s pompous Empress Pom-Pom inside a Chinese emporium; a pursuit by a ‘hound of the Baskerville’ that Sherlock and Juliet try to shake off while trapped inside a squirrel costume; and last but not least the climactic showdown involving a HMS submarine and the lifting of the famed Tower Bridge that will determine the life or death of all the gnomes.
Oh yes, the ambition of returning writers Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley has certainly gotten much bigger than their last animated venture; thankfully, their storytelling has also become a lot more sophisticated. In particular, the mystery of the gnomes’ kidnapping provides good narrative momentum from one boisterous action set-piece to another, with just enough twists and turns along the way to make the suspense worthwhile. Rather than play up a rift between Gnomeo and Juliet, the writers instead keep that simple (read: Gnomeo just wants Juliet’s attention even as she looks after the garden!) and invest more time in developing the relationship between Holmes and Watson, especially how the former has gradually taken the latter for granted.
On his part, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ co-director John Stevenson largely keeps up the energy from start to finish, aided in part by some amusing puns. Aside from the usual comic mayhem, the couple of black-and-white sequences illuminating Holmes’ trippy thought process are worth separate mention, adding a welcome touch of quirkiness to the proceedings. If McAvoy and Blunt have somehow been relegated to second-place with the focus being on Sherlock, Depp gamely steps up with a voice performance of vigour and verve; in fact, we dare say he sounds even more (pardon the pun) animated than he’s been in the last ‘Pirates’ sequel, and given the number of Sherlock stories out there for the mining, we won’t be surprised he gets his own sequel very soon.
Though Sir Elton John remains as executive producer and is credited for the songs in the film, his participation is hardly noticeable here, perhaps because giving his tunes a longer airing (like say in ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’) would indeed prove intrusive to the storytelling. Still, ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ is surprisingly more engaging and entertaining than its predecessor – and while younger audiences will be taken by the sight gags (such as a farty ‘mankini’), their parents will be tickled silly by the clever wordplay the likes of ‘what the fertiliser’ and ‘no ship, Sherlock’. Like the original though, this one has taken some time to make it to the big screen, but we’d like to think that time has enabled a smarter, sharper sequel that is what we see onscreen. The characters may be small, but the fun is life-sized, and by Sherlock, that’s good enough reason to join in this wacky ride into the un-gnome.
(Mystery, chemistry and tomfoolery - there's plenty of fun, intrigue and silliness to be had in this delightfully irreverent comedy)
Review by Gabriel Chong