Seven years ago, through a mix of concept, budget, and studio oversight, Gnomeo and Juliet ended up on the silver screen. It was a decent success, but not a juggernaut by any means - it wasn't like anyone's kids were walking around with a demand for lunchboxes and merchandise from the film. And yet, the prospect of a sequel was floated almost immediately, with Sherlock Gnomes entering development back in 2012, only a year after the original's release. Judging by the finished product, it feels as if the project was fully developed in 2012, put on ice, and released on a weekend where its failures could be muted by the noise of bigger, better products.
Their feuding clans now a unified family, Gnomeo and Juliet (James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) are set to take their places as the king and queen of their new garden home. But just as things are about to get underway, a spate of garden gnome thefts has left the pair on the rocks, and in search of their compatriots. Luckily for them, the greatest detective team is on the case, as Sherlock Gnomes and Doctor Watson (Johnny Depp and Chiwetel Ejiofor) have taken the assignment - whether anyone likes it or not.
It's not that Sherlock Gnomes is bad kids' movie on the same level as The Emoji Movie. Quite the opposite is true, as this sequel has all of the basic building blocks for an adequate film. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end, with plenty of time-tested cliches filling in the cracks to complete the package. However, even with all of the basics in place, Sherlock Gnomes just doesn't seem interested in doing much with what it has on hand, leaving it to simply settle for being an almost hour and a half long distraction.
If there are any points to be awarded to Sherlock Gnomes, they would go towards the film's attempts at being clever. Factually, two things rule this film's DNA, and they're Elton John songs and Sherlock Holmes references, and both are in full force throughout the film. In the case of Sir Elton's discography, there are remixes and full songs incorporated into the soundtrack and score of the film; and throughout the story, you can see references to various works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous consulting detective. But rather than act as cute little nods to both pieces of this film's foundation, they end up serving as nudges to the audience, demanding their cleverness be rewarded.
Overall, there's a lot of time wasted in Sherlock Gnomes, as both the audience and the stellar cast could be doing better things. The sequel is just as star studded as its predecessor, with most of the original cast coming back for another round in this universe. And yet, the talents of returning cast members such as James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are never on full display, as the material never lets them really go far. Not even the additions of Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, or Mary J. Blige can draw out any added enthusiasm for a sequel that no one asked for.
There are certainly worse children's films than Sherlock Gnomes, but even those films outdo this film in one key respect: you'll be able to remember those films for their epic failures. This is a pure example of by the numbers filmmaking, with the hopes that fans of the first film will somehow embrace it. At best, this is the type of film that comes in, tries to do a job, and does it with minimal craftsmanship to produce a barely adequate product. In which case, this film would have been better off as a direct to DVD sequel, rather than a big budget release.