Movie Review: Sherlock Gnomes

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Last time the star-crossed lawn ornaments Gnomeo and Juliet were singing and cavorting their hearts out in a proper English garden. Now they’re back in an adventure that has replaced Shakespeare with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the quaint Stratford-Upon-Avon for London.

During the setup, several potential Gnome-ified scenarios are floated (that including ‘Game of Gnomes’) before bringing in Holmes. Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy) and his beloved Juliet (Emily Blunt) are going through a rough patch in their relationship while they make adjustments to a life in a new big city and their new promotion as the king and queen of the garden. While Juliet is engrossed with her day job, Gnomeo’s feels ignored and their squabbling keeps them away from home.

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Gnomeo and Juliet are forced to put their personal issues on hold with the discovery that someone has been pinching their fellow pottery. The events lead to the pair teaming up with Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and the faithful but taken-for-granted Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), with clues pointing to the involvement of Sherlock’s old foe, Moriarty, here as “Goobarb Pie” mascot (Jamie Demetriou).

Series of events lead Gnomeo, Juliet, Holmes and Watson barreling through London trying to solve the mystery and foil the kidnapping scheme of two dopey gargoyles and their mysterious leader. Will the four manage to save all the gnomes? Will Juliet work on prioritizing her marriage?

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Choreographed by Kung Fu Panda co-director John Stevenson, Sherlock Gnomes is a mildly amusing matinee adventure. Not particularly awful, the film doesn’t have much nutritional value but slaps some peanut butter on the franchise to give kids at least something to chew on. It’s a speedy adventure with diverse action set pieces and a mystery that boasts at least one halfway decent twist.

It even boasts a few moments of genuine inspiration. When we see Sherlock Gnomes enter his famous “Mind Palace,” to sort through every piece of clue & information he has in his brain, the animation shifts to dynamic 2D black-and-white as the film takes on a playful, buoyant energy.

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There are also these moments of creativity and a few noteworthy vocal performances that make the film a perfectly acceptable snack. While proficiently if unremarkably animated, the plot allows little opportunity for the capable voice cast to shine — and even less to do. This is especially in the case of Michael Caine and Maggie Smith who make a very brief appearance as Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry.

Depp feels subdued as the pretentious and arrogant Sherlock, while Mary J. Blige at least gets her moment of fame as Sherlock’s former flame, a Victorian doll who croons the new John/Bernie Taupin composition, “Stronger Than I Ever Was.”

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The pop songs in the movie settle on mostly Elton John tunes and the whole enterprise is least eager to impress any grown-ups in the audience. While that doesn’t make Sherlock Gnomes good, it does make it kind of a sweet-natured throwback…at least in parts.

Solid, but not such a spectacular school holiday entertainment.

★★ 1/2

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