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Courtesy of Paramount Animation

March 26, 2018

Sherlock Gnomes: Kids Deserve Better

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Do you ever hear about something, and after a few words you already know it’s a terrible idea? That’s how I felt with Sherlock Gnomes, the sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet. Now, I never saw Gnomeo and Juliet, but from what I know, I feel that it didn’t warrant a sequel. Audience reactions seem lukewarm at best. Its gross wasn’t particularly impressive, only turning a profit thanks to the small budget. Was it worth adding a sequel seven years later with a bigger budget? One 86-minute headache later, I can answer with a strong NO. Follow me, and let me count the ways I detest this film below.

Sherlock Gnomes opens with our titular character, Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp). He saved a group of garden gnomes from his nemesis Moriarty, voiced by Jamie Demetriou. Sherlock, along with his trusty Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), defeats Moriarty and finds his shattered headpiece, believing his reign of terror to be over. Meanwhile, Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, are moved to London with their owners. Shortly after the move though, their family and friends vanish. That’s when Sherlock and Watson arrive to solve the case, and they must work together to find the gnomes before time runs out.

I have to jump right in and say it: this film is a huge mess from top to bottom. Starting with the characters, motivations do not make a lick of sense. For example, when they first move into the garden, Juliet decides to clean the place up. Gnomeo now feels like she’s not listening to him any more, so decides to give her a romantic gesture. He does so by breaking into a nearby flower store to get a certain kind of blossom. He’s foiled though, and Juliet comes to meet him. She proceeds to berate him, saying that he’s distracting her, that “the garden can’t wait; you can!” First of all, why is she so angry? She didn’t HAVE to come save him; he didn’t get caught. Their fight seems artificially inflated instead of a genuine conflict. Second, that particular line (“the garden can’t wait; you can!”) seems so mean-spirited. There’s also Gnomeo complaining that he’s not being listened to, and Sherlock’s consistent rudeness. The whole main cast feels unlikable. They never feel natural.

This makes the plot clunky as well. Early on, Gnomeo and Juliet are proclaimed the new leaders of the gnomes by their parents. This has no bearing on the rest of the movie at all, and could be cut. There’s a romantic subplot between a frog and a gnome which has no impact on the rest of the movie. The main plot itself feels tedious. You have not one, but two “twists” that can be predicted within the first five minutes. There are also glaring plot holes: the gnomes sometimes freeze into ceramic to avoid human detection, but in other scenes don’t want to be seen at all. It all depends on what the plot demands. Finally, there are outright errors. Juliet, Sherlock, and Watson find out where their friends are for the evil plan. Next sce: Gnomeo, who was not present for the evil reveal, knows about the plan too, and is there to help? This is not bad storytelling, this is broken storytelling. This is something that should have been fixed in a script review. I’m aghast that a film from a major studio managed to get to theaters like this.

Okay, so the storytelling is bad. Is it at least funny? Many people I talked to about this movie said that they thought it at least looked humorous. As a heads up, most of the trailer’s jokes are not in this film. Exactly one line made me laugh in this 86 minute film. A lonely moment of comedy in a sea of dabbing gnomes and selfie sticks. One line has Watson losing Gnomeo in a museum, at which point he calls out “Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo?” It might only be my inner nerd, but I felt enraged that the movie apparently doesn’t know that “wherefore” means “why”. I don’t appreciate this myth being perpetuated on kids for the sake of an unfunny line. It’s a dull time.

Now, you might have noticed in my synopsis that Moriarty is in this picture. However, he’s not mentioned in any promotional material. That’s because Professor Moriarty, described as the “greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every devilry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations” is reimagined as a rubber pie mascot. You might have gotten a slight chuckle from reading that. I assure you, that’s the most fun you’ll have from that concept. It’s a ridiculous-looking character that is not enjoyable, only obnoxious. It reduces one of the most enduring villains of all time to a punchline. I might have forgiven if it was at least a funny punchline.

As for the visuals, the movie leaves a lot to be desired on this front. At many points, the animation and designs looked good — on the animals and humans in the background. Many of the main characters have off-putting designs. There are also instances of water and liquids on screen that don’t look realistic at all. I get that fluids are difficult to animate, but that’s why you write around stuff like that. Not to mention there are blatant errors: very important clues change appearances between shots. Continuity in backgrounds is one thing, but we’re talking about something in the foreground that’s an essential plot element. Again, any kind of review would have caught this. The directing doesn’t work, with shots going on for way too long, resulting in very awkward scenes. Editing could have fixed it — again, any kind of oversight would have made this so much better.

Sherlock Gnomes has one redeeming feature: it’s short. The story is unappealing, it’s flat-out unfunny, and it’s riddled with poor design choices and objective errors. If the script had been revised even one more time, if more thought had gone into the characters and story, this would have been at least passable. Instead, more thought went into “How many gnome puns can we cram into the opening?” The result is an unwatchable presentation. It’s obvious that very little care went into the crafting of this film. Why should we, the audience, care enough to watch it then?

David Goulthorpe is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at dgoulthorpe@cornellsun.com.