Sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet, the garden gnomes version of Toy Story, this time combined with a Sherlock Holmes mystery and a cautionary tale about keeping your loved ones a priority in your life.
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A long time ago in the previous millennium – literally as I was a kid in the early 1960's – there was a segment within the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle series called Mr. Peabody and Sherman. The segment was a very tongue in cheek look at history. Mr Peabody was a genius dog who wore glasses and walked upright and who had a "boy" named Sherman. They would travel back in time, ala Dr Who, in Mr Peabody’s "WABAC Machine," meeting historic (Florence Nightingale) and mythologic (King Arthur) figures, go famous places (Great Wall of China) and experience historic events (Charge of the Light Brigade) to find instances where history has gone wrong and fix them.
They take Gallileo out into space to prove to him he is not the center of the universe. They help Mark Twain find his "lucky" typewriter and so on. These shorts were great fun and a charming whimsical way to introduce children to history – both humanizing the figures in history books and taking gentle humorous pokes at grand historic figures in a way which actually taught children what they were famous for: Franklin’s lightning rod, taking a first train ride with George Stephenson, teaching Alexander Cartwright (the inventor of baseball) the importance of good sportsmanship.
I only mention all these details to note that there is nothing wrong with taking a respectfully affectionate jibe at history or classic literature if it helps children remember and later understand it better.
Such is the case here with the Gnome movies. The first one took a stab at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, called, predictably Gnomeo and Juliet. A friend of mine, a teacher, thought it so effective that he used it for extra credit watching for his students, tasking them to find the similarities and differences between the original classic and the animated homage.
This time around they are after the inimitable Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Depp – Captain Jack in Pirates of the Carribbean, Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts, and Ed Wood) and Doctor Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor from 2012, Dr. Strange and The Martian) in (wait for it…you guessed it) Sherlock Gnomes.
The premise is that an entire culture of British Garden Gnomes live and function just outside of the sight of humans, utilizing similar rules to those that apply in Toy Story rules. When people are around they freeze. When out of the sight of humans they come alive and move freely but adhere to many of the same characteristics their inanimate versions have: just as Slinky the dog can stretch because his middle is a spring, garden gnomes can not drown but they can BREAK!
We begin the story with Holmes’ defeat of an evil gnome, Moriarty, who has kidnapped a dozen gnomes. Holmes turns Moriarty’s weapon against him who then appears to be crushed under his own device. We also note Sherlock has begun to take his friend Watson for granted.
This is the point at which we pick up from the previous movie and follow Gnomeo (James McAvoy – the new Professor X, the newest super villain invented by M. Night Shyamalan and Mr. Tumnus from the Narnia series) and Juliet (Emily Blunt from Live, Die, Repeat) and their friends and family as they move, with their owners, to a new house in London. The young couple will be taking over the leadership of the garden as their respective mother and father retire, but Juliet then immediately begins to neglect her new husband for her budding leadership responsibilities. The movie also features the voice talents of such veteran actors as Dame Maggie Smith (Mrs. McGonagel from Harry Potter), Michael Caine/Sir Maurice Mickelwhite (Alfie, The Man Who Would be King, Alfred to Christian Bale’s Batman) and James Hong (Po's goose father in the Kung Fu Panda series).
Their worlds intersect when the garden gnomes all over the city begin disappearing, including the families of the bickering newlyweds.
For all of the silliness of the animated gnomes with oversized ears, or huge hats, the movie makes some relevant and timely points about how jobs and one’s quest for fame can distract you from what SHOULD be most important to us – our friends, our family and, by extension, our children. This is where the two stories truly start to intersect as we see Sherlock’s casual disregard of his friend reflected in Juliet as she allows her new job to take precedent over her husband.
Not only does the movie introduce a whole new generation to the classic Sherlock Holmes character in a way which is very child friendly but, like truly classic children tales, reminds the moms and dads who bring the little ones of some important lessons as well.
There is no real violence, no bad language. The movie is played entirely against a background of cover and remix Elton John songs. Aside from a little bit of sly innuendo which will amuse the adults and go over the little kids’ heads, some fart jokes, a running gag about a gnome on a potty and an ugly male gnome in a body thong played for laughs, there is nothing even the youngest couldn’t see or hear. The most telling compliment was the fact that my two year old grandson walked into the theater grouchy but sat mesmerized through the entire movie.
So – well done. This time the game's a – ceramic – foot.