Back in 2011, Gnomeo & Juliet was a pleasant surprise: a skilfully animated, warm and witty kids’ movie that was also entertaining for grown-ups. Seven years later, the sequel may feel somewhat generic, but the characters are still engaging, and the action set-pieces are amusing. The sophisticated animation also provides plenty of distraction from the deliberately convoluted plot.
The set-up is simple: garden gnomes Gnomeo and Juliet (again voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) move to London with their family and friends. But just as they begin work on their new garden, a kidnapper strikes. So Gnomeo and Juliet team up with the ace sleuth Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his sidekick Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to solve this “ornamental crime”. The prime suspect is Sherlock’s presumed-smashed nemesis Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), and the chase leads them through London’s main landmarks, including such figures as menacing gargoyles at the Natural History Museum and waving-cat ninjas in Chinatown.
All of this is played for laughs, including the unnecessarily twisty story itself, which leads into a series of riotous final twists that poke fun at the whodunit genre. The returning vocal cast includes icons Maggie Smith and Michael Caine and comic geniuses like Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant, all of whom subdue their own personalities to create proper characters, each with his or her own mini-adventure. In addition, Mary J Blige turns up in the Irene Adler role as a blues-singing doll who runs a back-alley speakeasy for misfit figurines.
The animators bring an unusual attention to detail like the gnomes’ ceramic textures and sounds. And like the original, the sequel is produced by Elton John (through his company Rocket Pictures), who fills the soundtrack with his hits, plus a couple of original songs. So even if it all feels somewhat free-wheeling and ridiculous, there’s plenty of mayhem and comedy to keep the audience entertained.
Is Sherlock Gnomes a Good Movie for Kids?
The generally goofy tone maintains a relatively suspense-free atmosphere so, although many characters come under threat along the way, there’s never any real sense of violence. The script also pokes fun at its own emotional elements, undercutting any sappy sentimentality. And there are some rude jokes, mainly thanks to gnomes in a mankini or on a toilet, but young children love this kind of vaguely naughty humour.
Through all of this, there’s an understated message about respecting those who are closest to us, and not taking loved ones for granted. This is expressed through the narrative itself and also explicitly in the dialogue, but never in ways that feel obvious. In other words, children will get the point without feeling like they’re being preached at. They’ll be too busy giggling.