Sherlock Gnomes (2018) Review
THE GNOMES ARE BACK (AGAIN)?
At the beginning of 2014, Gnomeo & Juliet, a relatively unknown animated feature, made a soft impact during its initial release. Released (nationally) alongside the romance comedy Just Go with It, the historical war drama The Eagle, and musical concert of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Gnomeo & Juliet, which was directed by Kelly Asbury and starred the voice talents of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, and Michael Caine, told colorful animated tale of star-crossed garden gnome lovers (Gnomeo and Juliet) and how there love for one another was strong, despite them being part of different gnome clans (i.e. the red-hate gnomes and the blue-hate gnomes). The film itself (by design) was an animated retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (told through the eyes and lives of backyard garden gnomes) and was infused with an English sense of humor as well music from legendary British musician Elton John, who also produced the film. Despite the mixed reviews from what critics might’ve initial thought of this movie, Gnomeo & Juliet, which was released on January 23rd, 2011 but didn’t go nationwide until February 11th, 2011, did make a surprising splash with moviegoers, collecting roughly $194 million at the box office against its $36 million production budget. Of course, that number didn’t break any type of box office records, but it still made over five times its creation budget, which is a really good thing and down during a January theatrical release (a time when movie usually don’t earn the big bucks). Now, almost seven years later since it’s release, Paramount Pictures (Paramount Animation) and director John Stevenson finally unveil the sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet with the film Sherlock Gnomes? Does this second garden gnome adventure surpass it predecessor or has the magic gone out in this whimsical animated retelling of classic literature?
With their feud over and all the backyard gnomes rejoicing in their time of peace, the ceramic gang has been moved to London, positioned in a new yard that’s gonna require a significant amount of work to whip into shape. After announcing their retirement as the proclaimed governors of the backyard, Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine) and Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith) offer control of the garden to Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt), putting pressure on their newly minted relationship. While Juliet seizes the opportunity to leadership, Gnomeo just wants his partner’s attention, trying to acquire a special flower to win her back, which leads to an unexpected mishap with their community suddenly vanishes from their backyard dwelling without a trace. Except for one clue, which triggers an interest from Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Gnome Watson (Chiwetei Ejiofor), who specialize in cases involving missing gnomes. Hoping to find their family and bring them back to the yard garden paradise, Gnomeo and Juliet team up with Sherlock and Watson to unravel the disappearing gnomes, involving a “cat-and-mouse” game of clues to Sherlock’s pie-mascot archenemies Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou).
THE GOOD / THE BAD
To be honest, I vaguely remembering seeing previews for Gnomeo & Juliet back during its initial releases. I actually remember hearing about it more during its home video release during May 2011. Naturally, I didn’t see the movie in theaters (I think I was on vacation at the time) and it was already pushed out by the time I was able to even see the movie. Thus, I did see on TV (I think it was on HBO or Showtime) a few years after its initial release and found it to be quite amusing. Of course, it couldn’t beat out a Disney / Pixar feature endeavor (even some of the more weaker ones), but Gnomeo & Juliet was a fairly good attempt in children’s entertainment. I liked that the whole narrative was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet tale, with many of the film’s characters (both major and minor) acting as animated garden gnome counterparts to characters in the play. Coinciding with that, the film had a lighthearted tone with the addition of Elton John’s musical influence playing throughout the film. It’s a bit odd at first, but ultimately works in the movie’s favor. Perhaps the most interesting thing I found was that Gnomeo & Juliet was actually nominated for several awards during that award season, including a Satellite Award (for best song) and a Golden Globe (Best Original Song). Still, despite some of its praise, Gnomeo & Juliet is one of the forgettable animated movies out there, fading into the background against all the other movies that year (and even in the animated films in general).
Naturally, this brings me back around to talking about Sherlock Gnomes, the long belated sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet. With the original film being released in 2011, it really boggles my mind on why the studio waited so long to get this sequel off the ground. Regardless, Sherlock Gnomes, despite its name, is a sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet. While I initially didn’t hear that much “buzz” about the movie on the internet, I do remember seeing the film’s trailer a lot (and I do mean a lot) during my weekly outings at my local theater. Almost every movie (ranging from G to PG-13) had the Sherlock Gnomes trailer attached to it during the film’s “Coming Soon” previews. At first, I wasn’t really interested in seeing the first during its release, but, after seeing the trailer over and over again, I felt that I almost “had” to see it, especially since it was drilled into my head. So, what did I think of it? Well, it was terribly bad, but neither was it incredible. Much like it’s predecessor, Sherlock Gnomes is fun and amusing feature that lacks a strong narrative build and character development. It could’ve been slightly better than the first movie, but settles for a broader and mediocre endeavor instead by spreading itself too thin it its undertaking.
Sherlock Gnomes is directed by John Stevenson, whose previous directorial works includes the animated film Kung Fu Panda as well as several other projects like a few episodes from the short-lived animated TV show Father of the Pride and the short film The Polar Bears. Perhaps some of the fun of Sherlock Gnomes is seeing how the film’s plays up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic British detective through its characters and nuances, which are heavily utilized within the film’s core narrative structure. To be honest, I was expecting it to be more about Gnomeo and Juliet, but Stevenson leans more towards Sherlock Gnomes and Gnome Watson and their pursuit in trying to catch Moriarty. For the most part, Stevenson keeps the feature lighthearted and kid-friendly, much like the first movie was able to achieve. There are few more perilous parts, which is why I presume the feature is rated PG (Gnomeo & Juliet was rated G), but Sherlock Gnomes will find its target audience (aka “the juice box crowd”) liking this second adventure of the “garden variety” garden gnomes. Speaking of kid-friendly, the film’s comedy is also pretty good, offering up plenty of chuckle-filled moments from its starring cast of characters and a few wacky “cartoon-ish” scenarios. Again, Stevenson seems to enjoy providing ample room for its characters to be “broad”, especially when it comes to it humorous bits. Additionally, the film’s message, about not taking for granted what you have, is a good moral lesson for all (i.e. a universal theme) to learn, which some people tend to forget. Thus, despite the film’s many problems, Sherlock Gnomes’s central theme is in the right place.
In terms of technical presentation, Sherlock Gnomes fares better than Gnomeo & Juliet. The overall animation style (look and feel) has slightly improved since the first film, bringing to life the wide array of characters that populate the movie’s garden gnome world. Color are bright and vivid and better attention to detail has been given to character’s facial expressions and background settings. Also, much like the previous film, Sherlock Gnomes has sprinkling of Elton John’s music scattered throughout the movie’s runtime (whether by hearing the song be sung or various instrumental pieces). Again, it’s nice touch that works in the film’s overall charm (i.e. a British sensibility homage to the famed musician). Thus, the film’s composer (Chris Bacon) should be commended for incorporating Elton’s songs into his score. However, they’re a song sung in the movie, performed by Mary J. Blige’s character Irene, which doesn’t fit at all in the movie, especially since most (if not all) of the movie’s musical songs / cues are heavily influenced by Elton John’s work. It just seems really out of place in the movie.
Unfortunately, Sherlock Gnomes isn’t all that’s its cracked up to be and does fail several critical areas in making a second outing in the Gnomeo and Juliet tale superfluous. For starters, the film (as a whole) is pretty much unnecessary. I’m not saying that the film is downright deplorable or anything like that, but the movie itself is a mediocre sequel to an already mediocre animated feature. Yes, Gnomeo & Juliet was amusing with its play on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet narrative and with musical references of classic John Elton songs scattered throughout. However, it was a gimmick that only worked once with that particular film. Sherlock Gnomes tries to recapture that same magic keeping Elton’s musical library and trading in Shakespeare tale for Doyle’s Sherlock, but the translation for a second go-around doesn’t work. Again, the gimmick has been done before and this “double dipping” seems pointless and lackluster as if they ran out of ideas and just “carboned copy” ideas from the first film. Furthermore, Gnomeo & Juliet wasn’t exactly a mega hit that everyone wanted to see a sequel of, which makes this sequel a “film that not many really wanted to see”. Nevertheless, it was made and this movie does little to engage viewers (both familiar to the Gnomeo & Juliet film and newcomers).
This also extends to the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Ben Zazove and with a story by Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, and Kathy Greenberg. The story itself is thinly written and follows a very formulaic and simplistic path that many viewers (both young and old) could be able to guess the outcome miles away before it happens. It’s straightforward tale to be sure, but it very predictable and lacks that creative imagination that made the first film at least entertaining to see how it all plays out. In addition, the film has a strong desire to “go big” within its story plot, which involves a grandiose bad guy plot during the third act, but (for intents and purposes) should’ve remained small (in scope) much like the first film did. Still, the third act charges forward and becomes more noisy and boisterous rather than finding heart and character building within its narrative. However, perhaps the biggest complaint I have for this movie is the fact that it’s a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet. The greatest problem that this movie has too much characters to focus on (both major and minor). This comes at the expensive of much of the character building (more on that below) and in bringing a well-rounded story to the film’s proceedings. Thus, I firmly believe (and would’ve been more beneficial) that Sherlock Gnomes should’ve been a spin-off-esque film to Gnomeo & Juliet (keeping the garden gnomes aesthetic and nuances) by discarding all of the first film’s characters, so that feature could be about Sherlock and Watson and their battle against Moriarty. However, because the movie is a sequel (with Gnomeo, Juliet, and the gang), the flow and pacing gets jumbled and choppy and characters, screen-time and development, takes a backseat for cartoon mischief.
The overall cast in Sherlock Gnomes sees a lot of respectable / recognizable actors and actresses bring these voices to life, with some returning from the first film to reprise their roles. To me, it was kind one of the highlights of the feature itself. Naturally, being a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, actor James McAvoy and actress Emily Blunt return in voicing of their Shakespearian garden gnome characters Gnomeo and Juliet. Both McAvoy, known for his roles in Atonement, Split, and The Last King of Scotland, and Blunt, known for her roles in Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods, and The Devil Wears Prada, provide excellent work in Gnomeo and Juliet, the pair of star-crossed lovers, who face new problems (both personal and large ones) throughout the film. However, much like what I said above, their character builds in the movie just aren’t quite as strong as they were in the first film and almost seem secondary to the conjunction story of Sherlock and Watson. Thus, the characters of both Gnomeo and Juliet, despite being solidly voice by two likeable actors, feel bland and coming up short.
While Gnomeo and Juliet get somewhat pushed aside, the film’s two new stars (Sherlock Gnomes and Gnome Watson), who are voiced by actors Johnny Depp and Chiwetel Ejiofor, get more prominent spotlight screen-time. Depp, known for his roles in Pirates of the Caribbean, Black Mass, and Alice in Wonderland, gives a humorous rendition to Sherlock, arrogant and self-absorbed in the mission (and in his own mind), while Ejiofor, known for his roles in 12 Years a Slave, The Martian, and Doctor Strange, provides the more classic “straight laced” voice person for Watson, Combined, the pair make for quite an interesting voice work team in brining Doyle’s iconic Sherlock and Watson to life (of course, in garden gnome form). That being said, the characters aren’t that quite complexed and could’ve been more refined back in the storyboard / script process. This is caused by the film trying to share their screen-time with Gnomeo and Juliet, which hinders all four characters from being either fleshed out or even well-rounded. This is why I would’ve made Sherlock Gnomes should’ve been a spin-off like animated feature to Gnomeo & Juliet rather than a sequel film, which would’ve allowed the characters of Sherlock and Watson to be more drawing out in their respective story arcs rather than minimal caricatures of Doyle’s classic characters. Still, both Depp and Ejiofor’s voice work are solid in the movie.
As more secondary characters, the one standout would definitely have to the character of Moriarty, who is Sherlock Gnomes’s arch-nemesis who is voiced by Jamie Demetriou. Much like the movie itself, the character of Moriarty is play on the classic Sherlock Holmes character of Professor Moriarty, but the Sherlock Gnomes’s Moriarty is a more comical menacing evil, which makes him amusing to watch from start to finish. Plus, Demetriou, known for his roles in SunTrap, Year Friends, and Fleabag, does provide a hilarious voice in his iteration of Moriarty and makes him sound out amongst the vast amount of characters in the film. Kind of wished he was more in the movie. Behind him, would be famed musician Mary J. Blige, who provides the voice work Irene, which is based on the Sherlock Holmes character of Irene Alder. Blige, known for her musical talents as well her film roles in Mudbound, Rock of Ages, and I Can Do Bad All by Myself, does a good job in the role of Irene, but her voice does seem a bit “out of place”, especially with most (if not all) of the voiceover works in Sherlock Gnomes are of British accent, which gives Irene a more “American” one. It’s not necessarily bad and Blige does have a good voice, but (again) it just seems out of place with the movie’s grand scheme of characters. Beyond these characters, the only other new characters in the film (noteworthy enough) are actors Dexter Fletcher (Band of Brothers and Layer Cake) and actor Javone Prince (Stoner Express and According to Bex) as the two stone Gargoyles Reggie and Ronnie and actor James Hong (Kung Fu Panda and Blade Runner) as Salt Shaker, a salt shaker translator for a “Lucky Cat” statue at a Chinese restaurant.
The rest of the voice talents in the movie are previous characters from Gnomeo & Juliet, with all respective voice work performances returning to their post in reprising their characters. This includes actor Matt Lucas (Alice in Wonderland and Little Britain) as Gnomeo’s impulsive best friend Benny, actress Ashley Jensen (Ugly Betty and Arthur Christmas) as Juliet’s Scottish plastic garden frog best friend Nanette, Stephen Merchant (Extras and The Office) as Paris, Julio Bonet (Blindsight and Ruby xx Jack) as Mankini, music rock legend Ozzy Osbourne as the garden deer Fawn, actress Julie Waters (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Paddington) and actor Richard Wilson (A Passage to India and One Foot in the Grave) as the elderly owners of the Gnomeo and Juliet’s garden gnome family Ms. Montague and Mr. Capulet), and actor Michael Caine (The Quiet American and The Prestige) and actress Maggie Smith (Gosford Park and Downton Abbey) as Lord Redbrick and Lady Bluebury (the respective leaders to both the Red and Blue Gnomes). Most of these actors and actresses are great in their respective voice acting roles in the movie, be large supporting roles or just simply cameo-like ones. Still, with so many characters, it’s hard to try to keep all of them “in-line” and to have the right amount of screen-time to be important (if at all memorable) to the animated feature being told. In short, most of these characters are there for-continuity reasons in tracking to connect Gnomeo & Juliet to Sherlock Gnomes and nothing more.
The game’s afoot as the Gnomeo and Juliet join forces with Sherlock Gnomes and Gnomes Watson to unravel the mysterious of the disappearing gnomes in the movie Sherlock Gnomes. Director John Stevenson’s newest film continues the story of the characters from Gnomeo & Juliet for a new super sleuth mystery adventure, involving London’s “greatest ornamental detective”. While the voice talents are solid and the film’s kid-friendly adventure is amusing (along with the Elton John music notes and Sherlock Holmes references), the movie can’t help from just being mediocre sequel endeavor, with a weak script, bland characters, and ultimately washing away the whole “garden gnome” novelty; deciding to go big when this sequel should’ve stayed small. Personally, I thought this was fairly okay. It wasn’t exactly awesome and really didn’t need to be made, but it was a decent enough and held my attention with a few chuckles here and there. It’s tolerable to watch, but its not destined to be a classic. That being said, I think it will hit its target audience (the juice box crowd) not much on the everyone else (i.e. tween, teens, and adults). Thus, I probably would say that Sherlock Gnomes is okay movie to see as a “rental” and nothing more. While other animated films are on the horizon, including Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It-Ralph 2, and The Grinch, Sherlock Gnomes will most likely fade in the background of the 2018 movie releases (in both animated feature and live-action films) In short, Sherlock Gnomes is really a terrible animated movie, just a mediocre and unnecessary one.
3.0 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: March 23rd, 2018
Reviewed On: March 28th, 2018
Sherlock Gnomes is 86 minutes long and is rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor