Sherlock Gnomes is the second movie in a kids’ franchise that seems to exist solely to make the lamest puns imaginable. The pun has to relate to garden gnomes, those creepy ceramic dolls that adorn your elderly relative’s front yard, and has to fit an instantly recognizable public domain popular culture property. The first installment, 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet, was a frustratingly insignificant G-rated retelling of Shakespeare’s play, adorned with a wall-to-wall Elton John soundtrack. Now comes Sherlock Gnomes, the opening sequence of which is refreshingly honest about how the entire premise of the film was built upon the pun title: The narrator gnomes in charge of opening the story’s book for the audience go through various puns mixing the word “gnome” with pop culture staples before landing on a retelling of the famous sleuth as an animated garden fixture.
This version of Holmes, or Gnomes, steers away from the modern emo genius iteration of recent years and goes back to the basics of the old school, Basil Rathbone type, complete with Victorian getup, comically oversized pipe and magnifying glass. Johnny Depp, who has not found an over-the-top European accent he wouldn’t love to chew, voices Sherlock Gnomes. His take on the famous detective is a bit more restrained than the likes of Mortdecai and that Inspector Clouseau reject he plays in Kevin Smith’s later flicks, much to everyone’s chagrin.
The obligatory pre-credits action set piece sees Gnomes and his trusted partner, the shockingly not-pun-named Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), stop his dastardly arch-nemesis Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), manic narcissistic cake topper, before he can smash a bunch of innocent gnomes and derive downright sexual pleasure out of trolling Gnomes and Watson. The battle is won, but Gnomes then has to contend with a series of gnome disappearances, as well as Watson’s dissatisfaction with not being seen as a true partner in Gnomes’ dead ceramic eyes.
Meanwhile, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) try to locate their missing family and friends while dealing with some relationship issues of their own. The conflict between these two lovers is forced as hell, and becomes especially problematic when one understands the message that’s being delivered to kids: Essentially, Gnomeo is upset that Juliet is spending too much time renovating their new garden and not enough on him. Juliet maturely tells him that she’ll have more time for him once the garden is finished, but Gnomeo throws a needy hissy fit, and the film paints Juliet as the unreasonable harpy. The couple’s mission to find their beloved gnomes eventually crosses with Gnomes and Watson’s case, and the four of them form a partnership to unravel the identity of this new mysterious villain. The twist behind that identity is so obvious from the start that even younger children shouldn’t have any trouble predicting it.
Understandably, whether or not Sherlock Gnomes works as a semi-credible mystery is beside the point. The reason such a colorful mainstream family time-waster should exist is to string together a bunch of zippy PG-rated action set-pieces. In that sense, the film succeeds at the basest level, thanks primarily to the beautifully crisp animation, a big step-up from the first film’s overtly plastic CG look. The Elton John tracks made at least a bit of sense in the first installment, a romance first and foremost, but in an action-filled Sherlock Holmes mystery, they stick out like a sore ceramic thumb, no matter how much they’re remixed into an EDM aural hellscape. Overall, Sherlock Gnomes is certainly not worth the 50-or-so bucks for a trip to the theater for the whole family, but it could provide forgettable thrills and basic laughs as a quick distraction on streaming platforms.
Director: John Stevenson
Written by: Ben Zazove
Starring: Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Johnny Depp, Michael Caine, Mary J. Blige
Release Date: March 23, 2018