It’s been seven years since Elton John’s vanity-animation Gnomeo and Juliet reduced William Shakespeare to porcelain puns. In Sherlock Gnomes, it is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle under attack as the gang relocate to London for a tedious detective romp. As it transpires, the Bard got off lightly.
The youngsters who originally giggled at the silly but fun antics of Kelly Asbury’s vibrant gnomes back in 2011 may not even remember the experience now they’re in their teens. They certainly won’t be pushing today’s tots out of the way for the sequel, as fans of Pixar’s The Incredibles will in July. It is, thus, something of a mystery as to why anyone considered this retreading affair worth commissioning. With a soundtrack almost identical to its predecessor’s, Sherlock Gnomes manages only to dilute that film’s – already pretty inane – raison d’etre by lumbering it with one exceedingly generic plot.
Having overcome their differences last time around, the blue Montague and red Capulet gnomes are now one big happy family and so transit together when their owners – who, bizarrely, are now a couple, rather than squabbling neighbours – relocate to London. If their new garden’s a bit of a sty, their team spirit is largely untainted. Indeed, only Gnomeo (James McAvoy – much more cockney than before) and Juliet (a bored Emily Blunt) have anything to frown about, having hit a marital rut.
Elsewhere, across the city, garden gnomes have started disappearing en masse in a spate of seemingly traceless robberies. Naturally, it’s not long before Gnomeo and Juliet too find themselves in an empty garden, as the only pair to have avoided capture. Their only hope in finding their friends and family again rests in the ceramic hands of London’s premiere consultant detective Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his, cruelly overlooked, dogsbody John Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Likely that it is that Paramount – Disney weren’t interested in distributing a sequel – have a hashtag lined up and ready for Sherlock Gnomes on social media, fans of its source may wish to adopt their own: #NotMyHolmes. Singularly boring that Depp’s work is here, his performance reminds of the similarly dreadful turn he offered in Mordecai not all that long ago. In both roles, Depp is required to be a fundamentally irritating presence and succeeds far too well. It doesn’t help in this case that the bickering Gnomeo and Juliet offer no counterbalance, coming across as equally unlikeable.
If Gnomeo and Juliet just about got away with robbing blind the combined canons of Toy Story and Shrek, Sherlock Gnomes is far less graceful in the same feat. Ideas, scenes, characters and gags seem to have been copied over from Pixar, with the warmth and intelligence lost in transit. When Mary J. Blige turns up as a Barbie-esque doll, the blatant lack of mileage for garden gnomes becomes all too apparent.