As big fans of the original film, Shaun Nolan and his sister Ellie-Mai attended the families premiere on Sunday morning to see what they thought of the Gnomeo and Juliet sequel that is coming out in May. And what they found is that the second movie is pretty good fun, too.

It was my friend Kyle who first introduced me to the wonder that is Gnomeo and Juliet when we were about 13 years old and instantly, we were in love with this witty animated feature, set to the backdrop of Elton John’s classic catalogue of music. There’s something about the original film that is charming and sincere in equal measure, the kind of sophistication that Disney is yet to execute in as successful and unique of a way as Gnomeo and Juliet.

The passion I had for the film transferred over to my sister Ellie-Mai when she was four years old (she’s seven now) and she too got the bug, proving just how universal this joyous film really is. So when I heard word of a sequel on the horizon, being released seven years after the original movie, I was sceptical, not least because the new film – entitled Sherlock Gnomes– felt like it was going to be a step away from the high romance of the first film. And while this film is most definitely no where near as sensational as its predecessor – my sister is adamant of that fact – it is still a thoroughly enjoyable flick and one that any fan of the original will still have a lot of fun with.

Sherlock Gnomes Jonny Depp

Johnny Depp stars in Sherlock Gnomes as the miniature detective on a mission. Photo: Rocket Pictures/Paramount Animation/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Sherlock Gnomes picks up a while after the first film and opens with the gnomes all moving to London, faced with a new garden to overhaul. Immediately, Lady Bluebury and Lord Redbrick announce that they’re abdicating their positions as leaders of the garden and are passing their duties down to Gnomeo and Juliet. Immediately, work swamps Juliet and a rift builds in the relationship between her and Gnomeo, but it’s all put on hold when Sherlock Gnomes flies in to alert them of a gnome thief working his way around London (Sherlock’s arch nemesis Moriarty, in this instance, a plastic version of a pie company mascot) and all of their family and friends have been stolen.

It’s notable that the beginning of the film certainly feels as though you should have watched the first instalment before you sat down in the cinema, if you hadn’t done already. All the characters – even the ones that are new to the franchise, like Sherlock and Watson – are put in front of us without any introduction, in the same kind of way that we meet Harry Potter and the crew in films further into the franchise, for example. That approach works in the film’s favour, and it also doesn’t: I felt like I was getting special treatment for being a fan of the franchise already, but the original film came out in 2011 – the year my sister was born – so had she not been introduced to the original by me, she would’ve had no idea as to who she was watching. It was at this point, as we basically spend 20 minutes watching the gnomes living their day-to-day lives that I started to question why Gnomeo and Juliet needed a sequel at all, but I’ll come back to that later.

The voice cast for this movie are what make it special. James McAvoy makes for a charming Gnomeo. I challenge anyone to not feel constantly sympathetic with the character, because McAvoy’s voice alone makes you want to become an animated gnome just to give him a hug. And Emily Blunt is equally as fantastic as Juliet for the exact same reasons, making them the perfect pair to be at the centre of the movie. Unlike a lot of other animated leading characters, there is something quietly brilliant about them – their significance in the tale is large, but as people, they’re remarkably average in comparison to other animated leads like The Boss Baby and Moana, and there is something about that that feels totally refreshing.

Johnny Depp is unrecognisable as Sherlock Gnomes and his performance is so flat and samey throughout that it made me wonder why they chose him to voice the character and not somebody else. The amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of my favourite actors, made up for this though with a cheery and heart-warming performance as Watson, though. The rest of the cast were fantastic as well – all of whom are stars – with personal favourites of mine being Mary J. Blige as Irene, Julio Bonet as Mankini Gnome (hilarious), and Maggie Smith as Lady Bluebury.

As I said earlier though, one thing that this film really made me fail to understand was why exactly we needed a Gnomeo and Juliet sequel, and that’s coming from two huge fans of the original movie. Neither myself or my sister felt as though the characters had been bettered in any way or like we’d gotten to know anything knew about anyone in the process of the film, which seems to show how little the creators know of the success of the first movie. As far as my circle of the franchise’s fans are concerned, the real appeal in the original was how enjoyable and rounded the characters were – the fun parallels between the film and the original Shakespeare tale was just the icing on the cake. Sherlock Gnomes really doesn’t have that same charm about it, instead choosing to focus on a story that would rather spend more time highlighting Sherlock’s feud with ex-lover Irene – a character I didn’t even know was from Sherlock until I Googled it (I’m only a casual fan of the detective) – than giving us some actual insight into how the lives of our red and blue gnomes have progressed. This is, of course, made infinitely difficult when the main plot of the story is that they’re all been stolen, thus taking us from a huge ensemble romp in the first film, to a predominantly four-hander in the sequel.

This doesn’t drive the film to complete destruction though – as I said, I think the film is actually pretty good fun – but it does hinder it becoming brilliant like its predecessor; it’s definitely a sign to everyone that a third film would not be a wise idea. There is a lot to make this film worth the time though, mainly the climax of the story at Tower Bridge and the showdown between the goodies and the baddies. Again, it’s not the most thrilling stand-off in children’s cinema history, but it does the trick and kept both my sister and myself entertained. And with a film set against the backdrop of nighttime London, it clearly got everyone inside this Leicester Square cinema excited. Though, it does feel a bit like a missed opportunity to not set at least some of the film at 221B Baker Street.

Overall, Sherlock Gnomes is not going to make gnome costumes as iconic as Elsa-from-Frozen dresses and isn’t even necessarily essential watching for fans of the first film. It is, however, good fun for an afternoon with the kids and the kind of film that is going to keep them entertained and I don’t think that should be knocked; not every kids film has to be revolutionary or change the way that they think. However, when the original film was just that, it’s a shame to see such an average sequel.

★★★☆☆

Sherlock Gnomes is released in the UK on 11 May.