Garden gnomes? Alive? And at war? So, it’s a half-baked Pixar idea that ended up tossed to the side and picked up by someone else? Gotcha.
It’s not that Gnomeo & Juliet is a disaster. It’s cute, has moments of Pixar-like brilliance, and features a series of catchy pop songs, more or less because the genre demands it. There’s imagination too, the world of gnomes not limited to their own, but pink flamingos and other ceramic décor like wind veins.
Gnomeo struggles with its own rules though, the gnomes freely bending and twisting despite their stiff make-up, yet a running gag with a hooked ceramic fish shows it continually sinking to the bottom depressed. Boo, hiss, whatever. It doesn’t make sense, and neither does the gag, so there.
The film adds its own modern twist, including the internet, Hulk Hogan-voiced commercials, and Montague and Capulet are dueling neighbors into gardening. Makes you wonder why, if they care so much for the lawn, they dot it with toilets and garish gnomes… boo, hiss, whatever again. It’s tacky, especially the gnome in the Borat-inspired swimsuit. Who spends money on this stuff?
Of course, the gnomes are separated by color, each neighbor choosing a decidedly boring red or blue palette for their entire set-up, and the gnomes follow their own allegiance. Luckily, there’s no heavy-handed idea of accepting each other for who they are or looking past colors; the material is far too light for that. Instead, Gnomeo and Juliet, existing on opposite sides of the pigment war, try to make their meet cute relationship soar despite ever-watching parental eyes. Cue all sorts of mishaps, near misses, and the eventual reconciliation, as if anyone saw something else coming.
One final annoyance? The total wastefulness of Stephen Merchant, who despite in these gamer eyes will forever be Wheatley from Portal 2, plays a small role as a bashful gnome set up with Juliet. His singular scene is a total throwaway, and they end up hooking up Merchant’s gnome with a frog. A freakin’ frog. Can you imagine those kids? Boo, hiss, move along. They’d be hideous.
This one is actually labeled as coming from Touchstone, but is of course Disney but they were wise enough to keep the brand off of it. Regardless of the labeling technicalities, this is the usual Disney animated perfection. Full credit to the animators who have truly achieved perfection in designing these concrete creations, with slap-dash paint jobs, cracks, chipping on their faces, and other little marks that make them completely convincing as solidified beings… except they move, but we’re not going there again.
It’s easy to appreciate mostly because it’s all so clearly visible. As usual, this is faultless, and all of those little texture choices are free to come through in HD effortlessly. At a distance, in close, in motion, whatever the case may be, there’s always a flood of precise, clean definition readily available. Yards are overloaded with plants and grass, blades and leaves individualized as well as those markings on the gnomes.
Colors are vibrant, something that may not be quite as apparent until the flamingo shows up. Those splashes of red and blue carry a wonderful intensity, but that pink bird changes everything. Not only is the subtle lighting brilliant (he’s obviously hollow and slightly translucent), the pink simply blooms from the screen marvelously. It’s impossible to miss at that point, from the rich greens to bright, deep sky.
Black levels remain remarkable and rich, the nighttime sky producing no faults of note such as banding, despite some focused light sources. Credit the black levels or this AVC encode for keeping any compression away from these pristine, digital visuals. Everything here excels, and the expectation has yet to be anything less.
A now commonplace DTS-HD 7.1 mix doesn’t quite have the same intensity as the visuals. Part of the problem is that it’s mixed about 10 dB too low. If you’re not on top of things, you’ll be wondering where the bass is. Once you catch on, the low-end does too, a brief Matrix-like squabble (those are so 1999) producing a surge of subwoofer intensity. There’s a power-up and shutdown of an outrageous garden display at around 26-minutes that replicates the same effect with only slight less heft.
All of those pop songs, especially the ending dance number set to a remake of “Crocodile Rock,” carry the necessary oomph and surround bleed to remain prominent up through the end credits. The extra two channels, as far the music is concerned, add some spacious clarity to the surrounds, if not much else.
That’s the problem here, the 7.1 mix not doing much to make itself known or utilizing the extra two speakers for much of anything. Sure, lawnmowers pass overhead during a race, and characters split off for some positional dialogue, but they never feel like they’re being taken advantage of. It’s as if they’re just getting by, working in minimal tandem with the other surrounds, not against them to make themselves stand out.
Elton John Builds a Garden is more or less a making-of centered around Elton and his involvement. Two alternate endings include intros from the filmmakers, while the real meat of the piece comes from the separate eight deleted scenes, a mass of 42-minutes of concepts, ideas, and thought processes. Frog Talk features voice actress Ashley Jensen, while Face of Darkness details Ozzie Osbourne’s role. A short music vid marks the end of this somewhat paltry set of extras aside from those deleted scenes.