A Slightly Different Type of Gnome
Coming a mere day after my review of Sherlock Gnomes, I figure why not do this blog’s best attempt at a theme to date and review another gnome-centric CG animated feature. This one comes to us from streaming giant Netflix and like most of their exclusive films, actually boasted a brief theatrical run outside of the US before being picked up for streaming-only distribution.
Gnome Alone is a 2017 comedy film directed by Peter Lepeniotis (The Nut Job) and produced by 3QU co-founder John H. Williams (Shrek). 3QU is a fairly young (2013) American/ Canadian studio with Gnome Alone representing their debut piece of animation. They have since followed up the effort in 2019 with a holiday-themed film called Charming.
Actual Gnome Alone budget information hasn’t been made public but is confirmed to have been under $20-mill. It did manage to gross $10-million in theaters before Netflix picked it up for an undisclosed sum as exclusive North American distributor back in 2018.
The story centers on a single mom (Tara Strong) and her teen daughter Chloe (Becky G) who relocate to a creepy old house in a small town and quickly discover that things inside aren’t as they seem. It actually starts out feeling a bit horror-film by nature only to lighten up immensely once the source of the weirdness of the house is revealed.
The home scenes are interlaced with some lighthearted teen and school moments where Chloe tries to make new friends while hanging with the nosy neighbor Liam (played by Josh Peck who is clearly trying to summon his best Charles Mintz-Plasse).
It turns out that Chloe’s new home is the staging area for an ancient battle taking place between mythical creatures — gnomes have been protecting the planet from menacing little monsters that look like grapes called Troggs, who have invaded the house through a portal from another world.
When the only solution to stop the Troggs is given to a friend in school, Chloe and Liam and a rag-tag group of gnomes come together to confront the Troggs while the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.
On paper the film’s premise has bite – reminiscent almost of DreamWorks/ Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia. At the very least closer to that end of the spectrum than it is Gnomio & Juliette. In delivery it’s a pretty mediocre affair. The human characters, while a little stiffly animated, are developed surprisingly well but the epic battle of good vs. evil taking place between the walls of the old house fails to come off as particularly high stakes.
The gnomes in this case fail to capture the potential displayed in the Gnomio series where the garden gnomes snap into statues when seen by human eyes instead presenting gnomes closer to the mythological incarnation with a militaristic slant.
All told the piece doesn’t commit any major crimes so much as it fails to deliver on cleverness or cuteness to levels that would assure its memorability. Given that Netflix’s exclusive CG features are often light on budget, this one does pack a bit more heart than most of their catalog. The biggest detractor is that the similarly themed but vastly superior Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia is also exclusive to Netflix.