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It’s hard to approach passion projects that don’t make the reviewer/critic look like a giant jerk, when the product doesn’t turn out all that great. Recently, we have had a flood of “passion” projects that have fallen either flat critically, financially, or both. Everyone should know that no one goes into a film to make it bad. Sometimes, films end up getting screwed over by the lack of talent, executive orders, time, budget, and other elements that could lead to them not landing. Still, at the end of the day, I do not care if this is a passion project or not. I’m not here to tell you that you get a free pass, because it’s a passion project. I’m here to judge and critique it, and hopefully explain why the film didn’t work. I say this, because while I love Elton John’s music, his animated features have been, to put it lightly, extremely lacking. So, how does Sherlock Gnomes work? Directed by John Stevenson, who was the co-director of Kung Fu Panda, Sherlock Gnomes is an utterly confusing mess of a film. It’s supposed to be a sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, but the marketing makes it out to not be a sequel with no mention of the original, and instead, as its own movie. It was released March 23rd, and not surprisingly, the animated feature by Rocket Pictures, Elton John’s production company, and Paramount, got panned. Even on a supposed $59 million budget, it’s not making that much money. I mean, when you can either go see Pacific Rim: Uprising, Isle of Dogs, A Quiet Place, or Black Panther still, I can see people putting Sherlock Gnomes way on the back burner. So, does it work? Let’s check it out.
The story is sort of hard to put together, because it feels like a multitude of plot points, smashed together. Anyway, the main story revolves around our gnome version of the famous detective, Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp. Sherlock and his trusted side-kick Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, are on a mission to stop an evil pie mascot, Moriarty, voiced by Jamie Demetriou, from stealing London’s garden gnomes. Unfortunately for the two, Moriarty’s next group of victims is the garden of Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, who are going through their own relationship issues when they are named the new rulers of the garden. Suffice to say, the other gnomes in the garden that Gnomeo and Juliet live in are kidnapped, and they must team up with Sherlock Gnomes and Watson to find them.
So, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I want to talk about the marketing. I don’t normally do this, because marketing is temporary, and you shouldn’t really judge a film by its marketing, and instead judge the film as a film with its own merits, but the marketing has to be talked about. The original release trailer is one of the most misleading and worst marketing decisions ever made for animation this decade. Basically, all the bad fart jokes, twerk jokes, and puns that everyone was dreading when the movie came out, are not in the movie. It has a few puns, but 95% of the footage seen in the trailer is not in the movie. Yes, scenes get changed up, and some are taken out before the final product hits theaters, but this was one of the worst ways to show off your movie. Whoever decided that was going to be the film’s best foot forward needs to re-learn their classes in marketing. I know sometimes that when trailers are made, they have to use what they have, but if they didn’t need any of these scenes, then why add them? It’s going to backfire on them in the long run.
Now, for the film itself. It’s a mess. You can tell that the marketing team did not advertise this as a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel, but tried to market it as its own spin-off/stand-alone/sequel movie where Sherlock Gnomes was the lead. And boy, you can really tell how clunky and not well put together this film is. It struggles to try to be a spin-off, a stand-alone, and a sequel, and fails miserably. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won’t be happy, because it forces these characters from the first movie to be in what is essentially Sherlock’s story, and Gnomeo & Juliet fans won’t be happy, because they got turned into side characters in their own sequel. Why would you do that? Why not just make a fresh batch of new gnome characters for Sherlock Gnomes? Why did you force them into this film that’s not even a full-fledged sequel? Because fans wanted to see them? I think the writers, director, and Elton John lacked a real understanding about how people remember Gnomeo & Juliet. You can also tell that forcing these two stories into one film didn’t fill up the 80+ minute runtime, just because they add in a few side stories that really go nowhere, or are not fleshed out enough. This should have simply been its own standalone story about Sherlock Gnomes. Heck, it would have saved them a huge chunk of change by cutting out 90% of the cast, so they didn’t have to spend money on Ozzy Ozbourne, Richard Wilson, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant (though he did deliver the film’s best joke), Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, and James McAvoy.
A lot of defenses I see lobbed at critical animated feature reviews is that “hey, my kid liked it, so that means it’s okay!” Well, this time, I actually had kids at the theater watching it, and they were bored. They were either asleep, or asking their parents/grandparents to tell them what was going on. You ever think that maybe a kid who doesn’t have proper critical thinking is not the best way to judge a film’s quality? Kids aren’t the ones paying for the tickets, the parents are.
So, what does that mean for the music? One of the big marketing deals with both films was that Elton John’s music was going to be in both films with some new songs. Well, I hope you like terrible remixes and forgettable original songs, because that is what you are going to get. I’m Still Standing is in the marketing, but it’s not in the movie. Even the song Mary J. Blige sings is very short, and while she sings it well, it’s not memorable. When one of your biggest selling points is the music, and the music isn’t good or is extremely misguided, then you messed up.
Oh, and before we move on, let’s talk about the Asian market scene. While only in the film for, at the very least, 10 minutes, it’s another example of a long line of taking someone else’s culture, and not implementing it well. This entire Asian market acts like Chinese and Japanese culture are the same thing. Say what you will about Isle of Dogs, and it has its own debatable issues, the implementation of the cultures in Sherlock Gnomes is worse. While I don’t fully blame James Hong for having to do the voice for this salt shaker, the accent he throws out there is bad. It is shocking that this was not brought up more, but that’s probably because no one cared, or did not see this movie. I don’t care if this was a film aimed at kids, you can’t be giving it a free pass because it’s aimed at a younger demographic. Everyone deserves great movies. Don’t be short changing an age group because you can.
So, I know I have harped on this film a lot, but there are a few things that I can say were good about it. While many of the cast members are pointless, the performances are okay. They aren’t as entertaining as they could be, considering who they have, but they do decent jobs. I think the best performances go to Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Jamie Demetriou. It sounded like they were taking it seriously, and having fun with it. The animation is also pretty solid. Compared to the last film, textures look better and the movements look better. They definitely either had better talent, tech, or a combination of both for this film. Sure, I think the more realistic humans and animals look weird when side-by-side with the gnomes, but it at least looks theatrical in its animation. However, I do understand the complaint people have that the film is now too polished, and you lose some of the charm and one of the few things that worked about the original. I think my favorite aspect, and probably the best aspect of the film, is Sherlock Gnomes himself. They capture his mannerisms, and they do this cool 2D animated sequence when they are going into his mind. The 2D sequences are really well-animated, and the 3D designs translate well to 2D. I honestly wish the film was more like these mental moments. Finally, when it gets to the Sherlock Gnomes parts of the story, it can be pretty amusing. It just makes it more aggravating that the entire film couldn’t be about him, instead of forcing characters from a previous film into it.
Listen, like I said above, no one intentionally goes into it to make a bad movie. No one is scheming to make an utter waste of time and the studio’s money. The writers, the director, animators, editors, and so on do not come into work and say “let’s make a horrible movie.” That still doesn’t mean you get a free pass. There are aspects and ideas where this could have worked. The animation is better than before, the 2D sequences are great, and Depp and Ejiofor are solid lead characters. When it’s focusing on the Sherlock Holmes homages, it’s a decent flick. It just needed to not force and cram in the characters from the first film. It also needed better writing and a less predictable story, but in the end, it’s harmless. It has a decent moral message, but that doesn’t save anything. If you want to watch a good or very fun Sherlock Holmes homage or parody, watch the Sherlock Hound series. It’s a lot of fun, and is way more entertaining to watch than this movie. For now, Sherlock Gnomes is the weakest big-budget animated feature of 2018. Now then, let’s actually talk about a movie I enjoyed, and one I thought was snubbed at the Oscars. Next time, we shall talk about The Girl Without Hands. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!
Rating: The Worst/Blacklisted