Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

A Gnome by Any Other Name…

Back in January, I wrote about the upcoming kids’ feature Gnomeo and Juliet. Despite my hemming and hawing, though, Lucretia Anderson and I were able to go see the film this past weekend.

My short take is that the movie is more insulting to Elton John than to Shakespeare.

Ultimately it is an adorable, fun little movie (despite the terrible renditions of Elton John’s hits). It spoke directly to me when a little gnome in a ruff opened the film by ascending a stage and reciting tinnily: “This story has been told a LOT. We’re going to tell it again, but different.” before launching into the prologue from Shakespeare’s play (which he is unable to finish).

The movie is pretty well-done in terms of storytelling – the animation is fine, the sound effects are great (reminding you constantly that these gnomes are ceramic), and the little hints of Shakespeare are just as enjoyable as the big ones. There’s a scene with the Bard himself, who listens to the exiled Gnomeo bemoan his fate and warns him that it could turn out very badly.

Being a kids movie, it does not, of course, turn out badly. It ends happily, though I would have liked to have seen the gnomes’ owners (the lawn-warring duplex owners Montague and Capulet) have their own reconciliation since they seemed to be the catalysts for the feud in the first place.

Have you had a chance to see this film? What are your thoughts on it? Would you show it in your classroom when teaching Shakespeare?


  • Thanks for reminding me about this movie. I don’t see many animated films, but since this one is based on Shakespeare’s play, I intend to see it.

  • I think the movie is great fun. And a reminder for kids that Shakespeare is everywhere! The themes from Romeo and Juliet are certainly there. And it might be fun to take a field trip to the movie once the story of R & J has been reviewed or read in class, then have a discusiion about those timeless themes, and how the story continues to be re-framed again and again. But, I’m not sure I’d recommend it as an intro to Shakespeare or the play.

  • I saw it with my kids last week at one of AMC’s new “Fork and Screen” theaters where we got to eat dinner and watch the film (good experience…highly recommend).

    It wasn’t a bad movie, but the characters lacked the charm and intelligence Toy Story and Cars. The setting was clever, the world or lawn ornements when no one is looking, but unlike Toy Story it’s hard to carry a movie on it.

    Also, I think you damn Shakespeare with faint praise when you only take the basic elements of the plot and the names. He took them from somewhere else himself, so where’s the Shakespeare?

    The one part that I found mildly annoying was the talking statue of WS, on a pedestal with a formal British accent and embodying all of the stereotypes that distance him from today’s kids (I expected more from Patrick Stewart).

    I’m afraid the overall takeaway for kids, parents, and teachers is that Shakespeare has some superficial relevance (yes, I consider the plot of mismatched lovers to be superficial and unoriginal) but is otherwise a part of an irrelevant world. They could have done more with the language…more fun stuff that kids love (imagine a theater full of kids leaving and asking “do you bite your thumb at me sir?)

    Look, I know it was just a cartoon and won’t make or break my kids’ Shakespeare education, but it doesn’t help.

  • I saw this with my 5 year old yesterday. It was great fun for the two of us, but definitely not something I’d show in class. (I work with middle and high school kids.) For little kids, though, I think it’s a great interest grabber for Shakespeare. After seeing the film, my daughter is excited about the Romeo and Juliet plot and anything related to it. Now we’ll put Tales from Shakespeare and experience some of Shakespeare’s language!

  • What great feedback!

    Chris, I definitely hear you on the “faint praise.” Perhaps, this is a way to talk about Shakespearean adaptation? Though I suppose before you can even begin that discussion you have to have some familiarity with Shakespeare’s originals – and this is certainly too young for that audience. I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I would be with the textual references, but was definitely miffed that other plays were referenced as well.

    Noelle, I’m glad to hear you had such a great experience with your five year old! The Animated Tales (which use Shakespearean text) did the same for me when I was a kid, so it’s neat to hear interest in Shakespeare at such a young age!

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