Although “Gnomeo and Juliet” begins with the prologue of “Romeo and Juliet” and includes a cameo appearance by the spirit of Shakespeare, there’s far more levity than tragedy in this candy-colored, generally breezy animated variation on the Capulet/Montague feud. English teachers probably won’t approve, but Elton John fans will be tickled every shade of pink: In addition to a couple of new songs, there are snippets of at least a dozen of Captain Fantastic’s greatest hits cleverly woven into James Newton Howard’s buoyant score.
The romance also registers, even though the screenplay (which somehow required the talents of nearly a dozen scribes) takes even more liberties with the source material than Baz Luhrman’s flamboyant 1996 adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. The action unfolds in the neighboring gardens of Lord Redbrick (voiced by Michael Caine) and Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), in which bitterness has come to flower. The residents are all lawn decorations, although several of them are more ornery than ornamental, including the swaggering Tybalt (a comfortably cast Jason Statham) and a ceramic deer (Ozzy Osbourne — no joke) who’s less than endearing. Redbrick’s clan and the Blueberry bunch are fiercely competitive, and when Lady Blueberry’s energetic son, Gnomeo (James McAvoy), begins secretly seeing Redbrick’s feisty daughter, Juliet (Emily Blunt, who gives the lovestruck lass a gentle soulfulness), heartache is on the horizon.
Instead of iambic pentameter, the script is peppered with references to “Brokeback Mountain,” “American Beauty” and other pictures the grade-school crowd probably — hopefully — hasn’t seen yet. Nor are they likely to appreciate the film’s playful use of John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and “The Bitch is Back” (which is used as an instrumental). “Gnomeo” seems to have been targeted at a slightly more sophisticated crowd than your typical animated feature, even though it does kowtow to the kids by replacing the Nurse character with a swoony frog (Ashley Jensen) and the good Friar with an overly helpful plastic flamingo (Jim Cummings). The most inspired addition to the text, however, is a roaring, raging mechanical monstrosity known as the Terrafirminator (Hulk Hogan), an ultra-high-powered lawn mower that threatens to literally to rock Lawn Land. Unrepentantly nutty and silly, “Gnomeo” is an enjoyable option for a Valentine’s Day date or a spring break matinee.