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Gnome More Mediocre Sequels, Please

 

Way back in 2011 CG films like Rango, Rio and Kung Fu Panda 2 were making headlines but Elton John’s small CG studio Rocket Pictures snuck a surprise hit into the fray in Gnomio and Juliette.

The tale retold the Shakespearean classic from the perspective of a host of anthropomorphic garden gnomes that could freeze into inanimate statues whenever spied upon by human eyes in the grand tradition of Toy Story. It wasn’t particularly flashy or revolutionary but it did manage to pack in plenty of charm and a great soundtrack by Elton himself managed to turn a budget of $36-million into $194-million worldwide. Backing from Disney didn’t hurt there either.

Enter the inevitable sequel. Unlike its predecessor, which was produced and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures under their Touchstone Pictures banner after having been animated by Starz, Sherlock Gnomes was produced by Paramount Animation and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with the animation service provided by Mikros Image.

The budget nearly doubled this time around ($65-million) and the film turned a profit with a global gross of $90.3-million.

The story this time centers on the streets of London where Gnomeo, Juliet and their fellow gnomes have apparently moved with their human owners. The couple are declared the new leaders of the garden and the tension begins with Gnomio feeling slighted by Juliet’s dedication to the landscape.

After a slight detour, they return to their home to discover all of their cohorts missing; a caper that requires the assistance of the fabled Sherlock Gnomes and his assistant, Gnome Watson. The heist has the markings of sinister pie mascot Moriarty; who just so happens to be Sherlock’s arch nemesis.

If you’ve perused the web at all looking for opinions on this film, it should come as no surprise that critics were largely quite unimpressed and made no bones about lambasting this, the sophomore effort of the franchise.

In truth, it isn’t quite as offensive in actuality insomuch as it fails to capture the charm and wit of the original – almost literally out of the gate. Nearly the entire vocal cast returns from the original as did four of the nine writers, yet somehow the vibe manages to feel misguided. Conceptually, the films were never meant to rock planetary axises of course, but there was an unmistakable quaintness the first time around that is replaced here by a penchant for taking itself a bit too seriously.

Perhaps due in part to the London setting coupled to the mystery-solving nature of Arthur Conan Doyle’s source material, this one is less about cheesy gags and more plot-driven by nature, feeling at times like a sort of British Toy Story meets Cars 2. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, and the plot does manage to contain just enough twists and reveals to keep adults guessing, the trouble is most of the humor is buried pretty deep in puns and lines that have to be listened to very carefully to pick up on.

What this does translate to, mostly, is bored children who will not understand the slick pop culture references or subtle nods to the mystery genre and who will certainly find neither Woody nor Mater to grab hold of during the 86-minute runtime.

The beginning of the film opens with some tiny gnomes on narration detail bickering about the next story to tell after Gnomio and Juliette. The options come fast and funny: Game of Gnomes, Indiana Gnomes, The Gnome Ranger, The Twilight Gnome. When it is decided that Sherlock Gnomes will be the tale, a subtle wave of disappointment overcomes the viewer and that pretty much sets the tone for the hour-and-a-half that follow.