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Gnomeo & Juliet

Shakespeare's tale of star-cross'd lovers and self-sacrifice is given a new lick of paint in Kelly Asbury's fast-paced computer animated comedy. Set in the gardens of fair Verona Drive, Gnomeo & Juliet pits feuding clans of blue and red ornaments against one another, set to a soundtrack of classic and original songs by Elton John, also the film's executive producer. The irreverent tone is struck from the opening frames when a pint-sized gnome shuffles on to a stage and tells us, "The story you are about to see has been told before. A lot." Indeed it has, but Asbury's film tries to distinguish itself with visual gags (a laptop computer with a banana logo) and the obligatory pop culture references like the gnome, joined at the base to his mate, who sighs, "I wish I could quit you" a la Brokeback Mountain. High-speed lawnmower chases involving a beast of a machine called the Terrafirminator ("It's unnecessarily powerful!" declares the advertising) are juxtaposed with the first meeting of the eponymous lovers, set to a smoochy ballad. Alarmingly, the script has been cobbled together by seven writers, which might explain why for all its boundless cheer and cute animal sidekicks, Gnomeo & Juliet is not quite the perfect gnomance it could have been. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a blue, living on one side of the drive with mischievous sidekick Benny (Matt Lucas) and his mute best pal, Shroom. His mother, Lady Blueberry (Maggie Smith), keeps a close eye on the ceramic bunnies that festoon the lawn and on her rival Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), who presides over the garden next door. He is determined to protect feisty daughter Juliet (Emily Blunt) by consigning her to the top of a castle-shaped garden feature, from where she rebuffs the advances of sweet and unassuming Paris (Stephen Merchant). A chance encounter between Gnomeo and Juliet sows the seeds of true love but her bully boy cousin, Tybalt (Jason Statham), would rather mow down a blue than see the two families united in holy matrignomey. Thankfully, Juliet can always rely on her confidante, plastic frog Nanette (Ashley Jensen), for advice. Gnomeo & Juliet doesn't outstay its welcome and Asbury draws on his experience directing Shrek 2 to infuse a quintessentially British story with enough broad comedy to ensure the film kicks some grass on the other side of the Atlantic. McAvoy and Blunt are both sweet but the only vocal performance that stands out is Jensen as an overly dramatic amphibian, looking for someone to share her lily pad. Some gags are recycled from the screenwriters' compost heap ("I'm not illiterate - my parents were married!") but we root for the pint-sized central characters, right up to the madcap, overblown finale.