Elton Roars About Gnomeo & Juliet
For Elton John, it's always been about building bridges. That's one of the reasons he was attracted to Gnomeo & Juliet, the animated riff on Shakespeare, forbidden love between garden gnomes and teaching feuding neighbors to live together in peace and harmony. It took 11 years to get Gnomeo & Juliet made, the first animated feature from John's Rocket Pictures, which Touchstone Pictures opens on Feb. 11. John wrote two new songs with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin: "Hello, Hello," a duet with Lady Gaga, and "Love Builds a Garden," his favorite, about love renewed. At a recent press conference, the legendary Captain Fantastic, proud new father, discussed the confluence of music and animation in his life.
AWN: Elton, how have you been able to build on The Lion King with this experience, and what have you learned and now appreciate more about animation as a result of Gnomeo & Juliet?
Elton John: Well, with The Lion King I learned -- it came my way in 1993 thanks to Tim Rice, and I've always collaborated in my career as a songwriter and I loved the idea and the journey of collaboration with everyone on The Lion King. I'm a team player, really, that's why I like doing the musicals. I've always had a songwriting partner, as I said, and I think what you learn most of all is leave your ego at the door.
We left three songs which were really great songs out of Billy Elliot, but it would have made the show four hours and two minutes long. It can't happen. You have to be prepared to say, "Okay, I'm going to fight for this song, but if you really want to get rid of it, then that's fine." You've got to do that, and you've got to listen to the team as a whole. There's been so many times where we've convened during these 11 years, and the film has taken a different course or whatever. You really have to, as an important member, be there for everybody else on the team.
I've always liked that during my career. I've always had the good fortune to have a longstanding songwriting partner, who I've been with for 44 years. So it's just another way of sharing a joyful experience of creating something. But if I was to say, "Well, this song's going in or I'm walking off the film," there's none of that shit. You just have to be patient and you have to watch things, how they evolve, and you have to be there for the good of the thing as a whole and not just for you as a component of the piece.
EJ: Well, originally, it wasn't going to be all my music. But when Dick Cook at Disney Studios really got a hold of this project and suggested that we wrote new songs for it and it should be a whole Elton John back-catalogue thing, I thought it was maybe a good idea. I'd never done that before. I enlisted the help of James Newton Howard, who is the arranger, and a very famous arranger in this town, who actually used to be in my band. So I had a great relationship with him.