In defiance of common sense, “Gnomeo & Juliet” (2011) decided that Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers would be better off not dying, at least as animated garden gnomes.
When someone snatches figurines across London, Gnomeo and Juliet (again voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) team up with a condescending Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to crack the case without cracking anyone. (Like the movie, this review needs better wordplay.)
Directed by John Stevenson (“Kung Fu Panda”), “Sherlock Gnomes” offers more variety than its predecessor. Although still laced with glib pop culture references (wow, a skinny latte) and scored with Elton John tunes in a way that plays like a concession to adults, it has occasional fun ideas, such as rendering the inner workings of Holmes’ mind in hand-drawn black and white.
Turning Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou, channeling Ricky Gervais) into a Pillsbury-like mascot is good for a laugh or two. As the voice of Irene, Holmes’ jilted paramour in this version, Mary J. Blige belts out a song. On the other hand, the Chinatown trinkets the gnomes encounter cut uncomfortably close to caricature.
The biggest problem is that this universe seems limited in its possibilities — imagine “Toy Story” with basically one kind of toy. Robbing Depp of his indispensable physical presence only highlights the ceramic stiffness of the jokes.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.