A sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet, Sherlock Gnomes reimagines the famous sleuth as a lawn trinket on the trail of his missing fellows in London. Directed by John Stevenson and with a pun-heavy story credited to several people, it stars Johnny Depp, Chiwetal Ejiofor, Emily Blunt and James McAvoy.
I, like all clever people, enjoy a good pun. But it turns out that there are only so many irreverent animated projects that you can build around essentially nothing but, and that number is one. It was Gnomeo and Juliet, from 2011, a poppy and oddly well-cast reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of star-crossed suicidal lovers. It was alright, that. Its sequel, Sherlock Gnomes, is not.
Not that it’s terrible or anything, but it’s plying the same glib pop-culture jokes and Elton John tunes that the first one was, only without any of the integrity or the freshness of a good idea. For its few fun jokes – the inner workings of the detective’s mind are rendered in hand-drawn black and white – there are a dozen more that are either tedious or questionable, such as a trip to Chinatown that veers close to caricature without anything resembling satire.
Still, I’m not one to get annoyed by such things. The original decided not to end in garden gnome double-suicide, so Sherlock Gnomes brings back Gnomeo (McAvoy) and Juliet (Blunt) to assist a hoity-toity Sherlock Gnomes (Depp) and his belittled assistant, Watson (Ejiofor), in tracking down London’s missing lawn figures.
It’s odd-couple comedy, then, as the arrogant Sherlock is awful to his dutiful Watson, and Gnomeo and Juliet are reimagined as a seasoned married couple who’re more than a little sick of each other. Without Depp’s unique physical presence, his pretentiousness doesn’t seem like much of a joke, and it builds to a tedious message about not taking people for granted.
Better is Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), here a Pillsbury-like puffy mascot, and the capital’s vanished gnomes that include Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Ozzy Osbourne. There’s also a brief appearance for Mary J. Blige as Sherlock’s jilted, sexed-up paramour. (She sings a song, naturally.) When I say “better”, I only mean slightly. The humour is aimed at kiddies, but even though they might giggle at one or two gags, including a close-up shot of a bikini-clad gnome’s arse, they’ll recognise how the story lacks a sense of playfulness or adventure and likely want to go gnome.