Gnomeo, voiced by James McAvoy, and Juliet, voiced by Emily...

Gnomeo, voiced by James McAvoy, and Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt, are shown in a scene from "Gnomeo and Juliet." Credit: AP

What does Shakespeare have to do with garden gnomes? While we're at it, what do garden gnomes have to do with Elton John? Nothing at all, but fortunately that didn't stop the people who made "Gnomeo & Juliet." So far, it's the year's best mash-up of Elizabethan tragedy, animated lawn ornaments and "Benny and the Jets."

The movie recasts Shakespeare's star-cross'd lovers as plaster garden gnomes living on the lawns of Verona Drive in suburban England. The Montague and Capulet clans are now the Blues and the Reds, after the colors of their pointy hats; their bickering leaders are Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith) and Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine). And perhaps because Sir Elton is an executive producer, the film opens with everyone hopping and bopping to "Crocodile Rock."

Nevertheless, war is brewing. Young Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and fiery Tybalt (Jason Statham) are holding ruthless lawn mower races, a dangerous pastime that will eventually bring an all-out garden-Armageddon. Quoth Gnomeo: "Red! I hate the word."

That changes when he meets Juliet (Emily Blunt) on the neutral turf of a nearby garden. Their courtship, thanks to the two enthusiastic voice actors, is genuinely charming, from the clandestine dates to the misunderstandings to the planned elopement. And surely you were expecting John's 1976 duet with Kiki Dee, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."

"Gnomeo & Juliet" has jokes aplenty, as it should with nine writers, including director Kelly Asbury ("Shrek 2"). The better ones are a talking Shakespeare statue (Patrick Stewart), some groan-worthy puns ("What's in a gnome?") and a massive lawn mower called the Terrafirminator (listen for Hulk Hogan). Uneven is the course, as the Bard might say, but the ride is plenty of fun.

Elton & Bernie on 'Gnomeo & Juliet'

Instead of creating an original animated film soundtrack, Elton John teamed with lyricist Bernie Taupin and tapped into the duo's iconic history for the music in "Gnomeo & Juliet."

John, the executive producer, said the idea to infuse the film with hits came from former Disney studio chief Dick Cook.

"He said, 'I want a classic Elton John rock and roll soundtrack,' " said John. "Bernie and I were going to write about five or six songs for the movie, so we only wrote four songs, two of which were used, and the rest of it is classic Elton John. I don't take credit for that. It wasn't me saying, 'Well, it's a great chance for me to get my back catalog out!' "

"Gnomeo & Juliet" composer James Newton Howard, who toured with John as a keyboardist in the 1970s and '80s, wove a score using classic John melodies. For example, as the gnomes spar on their lawn battleground, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" riffs in the background, and "Bennie and the Jets" chimes in when Benny hops from key to key on a laptop.

The new songs include "Hello Hello," a rollicking duet with Lady Gaga, and "Love Builds a Garden," a touching tune that plays during a montage about lovelorn plastic lawn flamingos. --Associated Press

Top Stories