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Sherlock Gnomes

 

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John Stevenson – widely admired for his work on Kung Fu Panda – directs Sherlock Gnomes, the sequel to 2011 animated hit Gnomeo and Juliet. We are reacquainted with familiar faces and introduced to the garden ornament versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary crime-solving double act: the titular Sherlock Gnomes and his sidekick, Watson.

A detailed knowledge of the prequel is inessential, although once more the film is centred around the besotted couple. The Shakespearean lovers and their friends and family are moved to the capital, where a clutch of gardens are being mysteriously robbed of all their gnomes, a case that comes to the attention of “the sworn protector of London’s gnomes”, the eponymous Baker Street detective.

Johnny Depp puts in the bare minimum in a monotonous vocal rendition of the private investigator, a far cry from the eccentricity he brought to Rango – although, in fairness, an extremely talented cast is left with little to work with from a hollow script. The film goes through the motions, sticking aggressively to the tried and tested format of legion detective capers.

This movie suffers from an existential crisis: there’s really very little point to it, and it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if we learned that the feature’s title was the sole starting point of development, such a pun being too irresistible for the creators to pass up.

There are some twists and turns – as with all Sherlock stories – as well as a bromance, some romance and a cackling, crazed villain to boot, but these all contrive to feel undeveloped and quite empty.

Children familiar with the previous film’s story will enjoy catching up with the relationship of Gnomeo and Juliet as it blossoms into a devoted marriage with the attendant struggles and reconciliation. Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a spirited performance as Watson, but, in spite of his efforts, he cannot will a spirit into this quite lifeless animation.

Directed by John Stevenson and written by Ben Zazove, the film is a sequel to Gnomeo And Juliet, which grossed nearly $200m worldwide. The voice cast includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Maggie Smith.

Headed by CEO Ricky Qi, Beijing-based Vision Film recently handled the Chinese release of Alex Garland sci-fi horror Annihilation, which grossed around $10m last month, and has also distributed films such as MalavitaGood People and Triple 9.

“We are very excited about working with MGM on Sherlock Gnomes, this great animation, as its Chinese distributor. We believe it will have a great performance in China,” said Qi.

Backed by Paramount Animation and MGM, Sherlock Gnomes was produced by Steve Hamilton Shaw, David Furnish and Carolyn Soper with Elton John as executive producer. It was released in North America by Paramount on March 23 and grossed $42m.From pirate to detective – title character Sherlock Gnomes is played by a very familiar face Johnny Depp. No stranger to family films, Depp has starred as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise since 2003, as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and Rango. Outside of children’s films, Depp’s broad filmography includes classics such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Edward Scissorhands and Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.She’s the heroine in one of the most famous love stories of all time…in gnome form. Returning to her role from Gnomeo & Juliet, Emily Blunt stars as Juliet in Sherlock Gnomes. Emily shot to fame in fashion comedy The Devil Wears Prada in 2006, earning critical praise for her performance as stressed and ambitious PA Emily. Since then, she has played a Queen in The Young Victoria and FBI agent in Sicario and is set to take on the iconic role of Mary Poppins next year. Most recently, Emily starred in smash-hit horror A Quiet Place.The Gnomeo to Emily Blunt’s Juliet is voiced by James McAvoy. Sherlock Gnomes is not the Scottish actor’s first foray into animation, as well as reprising his role from Gnomeo & Juliet, McAvoy also voiced Arthur in 2011 festive comedy Arthur Christmas. You might also recognise James from the X-Men franchise, in which he has starred as Professor Charles Xavier since 2011. Other projects of McAvoy’s include war drama Atonement, British crime drama Filth and M Night Shyamalan’s 2016 thriller Split.

While she may be better known as a Grammy award-winning musician, the voice of Irene, Mary J Blige, has made impressive waves in the acting world. Having had several smaller acting roles over the years, she blew critics away with her performance in Mudbound, earning best supporting actress nominations at the 2018 Oscars, SAGs and Golden Globes. In Sherlock Gnomes, Blige stars as Irene, a former girlfriend of Sherlock and a version of a character first introduced in one of the earliest Sherlock Holmes stories in 1891.

Stephen Merchant reprises his role of clever-clogs gnome and part of the gang Paris in Sherlock Gnomes. Many know Merchant as the co-creator of The Office and Extras, his projects with longtime friend Ricky Gervais. He’s also had several film roles with appearances in Hot Fuzz, I Give It a Year, Hall Pass and Logan.

But then the producers asked me, and my kids to see it one sunny Sunday morning in London, and the mother-in-law had never been to such an event and suddenly I found myself watching a film I had every intention of hating, at the back seat of an IMAX, behind Kim Newman, who I have no idea why he was here save for the tenuity of the Sherlock Holmes connection, trying to spot the backs of producer Elton Johnand voice Steven Merchant‘s heads down at the front. Tip, Merchant is really easy to spot, he towers a foot over everyone else in the room, even sitting down. Glad I wasn’t behind him…

And then we got a very different film.

I went back to check. A good 85% of the content of the trailer isn’t in the film. The head injury to a small gnome, the farting jacuzzi, Mankini twerking, the line ‘No Ship Sherlock’ given such play in all trailers, were utterly excised from the final cut. Did someone with an element of taste get involved? Were there significant Rogue One-like scenes reshot? Or were they, Trainspotting style, never meant to be in the film in the first place?

So we have a sequel to the fairl-bland-and-boring Gnomeo And Juliet, made far more palatable by being a Sherlock Holmes story. Although there were other options at the beginning – my favourite being a potential Spider-Gnome: Gnomecoming – we get a Sherlock Holmes full of all the stereotypes that have built up over the years, deerstalker, magnifying glass, even a dominating Irene Adler, though sadly actually moments of deduction are sparse and skipped over. This is a game of following obscurely placed deliberate clues rather than trying to deduce the machinations of a madman. Johnny Depp disappears completely into his Sherlock Holmes voice, Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Watson is more enjoyable but the star vocal performance of the movie has to go to Jamie Demetriou‘s Moriarty, who truly relishes the role.

It’s hardly a challenging film, but certain moments such as Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace portrayed as a 2D black and white Escher animation was a standout, and the Toy-Story-alike world of Irene’s club suggested this was only a very small part of what was really going on.

I mean, this is not a great film. And in the same year as Early Man and Coco came out, it should have been a lot better. But it was so much better than I was expecting.

If it wasn’t for the kids and the PR people, I would never have chosen to see the film, because of the trailer. And now? I’m glad I did. And we are using the loaves of bread we were handed as a freebie (sponsored by Hovis, Baker Street etc etc) for the sandwiches this week too…

Sherlock Gnomes is released in the UK on May 10th, with previews the week before.

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