Where can you possibly begin with the sequel to a seven year-old animated retelling of Romeo and Juliet with garden gnomes and an Elton John-powered soundtrack? Where could the filmmakers even go? Gnomeo and Juliet: The Edge of Reason? Startlingly, and with absolutely no shortage of bewilderment, we’re instead looking at a sequel that takes on Sherlock Holmes – with a new central concept that casts the sequel elements of this… sequel… into the background to make way for a rollicking romp through a strangely photorealistic London. And Johnny Depp’s the voice of our garden gnomes Holmes. It’s deranged. It’s set itself up to be the single worst thing you’ve ever seen. And yet… it’s really not.
So, sequel elements first: Gnomeo and Juliet (James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) are now happily married and, following their now also-married owners’ move to London, set to become the new leaders of their freshly transplanted garden (re. kingdom). Unbeknownst to the newlyweds however, London is presently under siege by a mysterious villain whose MO involves the wholesale abduction of entire communities of gnomes – a villain who whisks away the pair’s nearest and dearest and forces them to team up with the offbeat detective Sherlock Gnomes in order to rescue those taken.
Now, here’s the actual plot: Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) is London’s greatest gnome detective, and – after despatching his arch nemesis, Moriarty – launches into a fresh case involving the serial abduction of entire pockets of gnome society. As honed as his craft may be, however, Sherlock’s methods are causing a rift between himself and his trusted best friend Dr. Watson (Chiwitel Ejiofor), a rift that only widens as they’re forced to team up with a pair of hapless newlyweds in search of those taken.
Oddly enough – and despite the over-saturation of the character in recent years – it’s the second of those two plots (the one the movie makes no bones about positioning as its focus) that genuinely engages here. Depp and Ejiofor making for a rather interesting take on the iconic sleuths, even if the set-up for their dynamic does feel a little derivative of Without a Clue at times, with both clearly having a ball, and Ejiofor in particular wholeheartedly going for something fresh with his character. The Gnomeo and Juliet elements, however, feel strangely uninvolving in contrast – with McAvoy’s character arc never overtly interesting, and an added sting in the tale provided by Blunt’s equally uninteresting one ending on a deeply sexist message that you’d be concerned to hear repeated by children.
That Sherlock storyline, though, is just about fun enough to make it work before that point. With all of its sewer adventures and buddy-cop tropes amidst a contemporary London, it’s admittedly a little reminiscent of Aardman’s Flushed Away at times, though, truth be told, Sherlock Gnomes on the whole is about as good a movie. Not unenjoyable but never likely to wind up among the Best Animated Feature nominees, Sherlock Gnomes is an above-average-for-the-adults, perfectly-fun-for-the-kids, jaunty animated romp that you’d frankly get a lot more out of if you go in looking for a Sherlock comedy and less a Gnomeo and Juliet sequel.
Sherlock Gnomes is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, May 11th; rated U. Check out the trailer below.