Sneaking Gnomeo & Juliet
If Despicable Me was the surprise success of 2010 with its unique hybrid production and aesthetic model, then Gnomeo & Juliet just might pull off another "best of both worlds" success story when it opens Feb. 11, 2011.
The engaging mash-up of Shakespeare, tacky garden gnomes and the music of Elton John offers its own indie/studio hybrid. The Romeo and Juliet riff (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) is obviously British but culturally universal; independently produced by John's Rocket Pictures, animated by Starz Animation Toronto and distributed by Touchstone Pictures; but financed by Disney and comprised of key filmmakers from the studio world, principally producer Baker Bloodworth (Pocahontas, Destino, Lorenzo) and director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2).
But Gnomeo & Juliet didn't start out that way back in 2001, when Rocket Pictures President Steve Hamilton-Shaw optioned the spec script by Rob Sprackling and John Smith and set it up at Disney. "The movie struggled to find its tone and was not the tone of Disney animated movies," Shaw admits. "It was always a bit of a square peg into a round hole."
Indeed, when Pixar took over Disney Feature Animation in 2006, John Lasseter passed on Gnomeo & Juliet when directors Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker were less than passionate about the project and wanted to helm something else instead. However, studio chief Dick Cook wanted to stay in business with John and his Rocket partner David Furnish, so he set it up at Disney-owned Miramax Films with President Daniel Battsek.