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Wherefore art thou Gnomeo?; STAR WARS HERO TAKES UP GARDEN LOVE.

Byline: TOBY McDONALD

EWAN McGregor is set to ditch his light sabre for a challenging new role - as a garden gnome.

The Scots star and Kate Winslet will play two garden gnomes who fall in love in the Disney comedy Gnomeo and Juliet.

The cartoon is beingmade by Elton John's film company and the singer - whose Lion King score was Oscar-nominated - will write the music in collaboration with Tim Rice.

Dame Judi Dench will also star as the nurse in the adaptation of Shakespeare's play.

The movie takes place in a garden, when ornaments come to life, with Kate as a gnome from indoors who falls in love with Ewan.

Don Hahn, Disney's producer on the project, said: "It's the indoor sculptures and figures and things, versus outdoor things that have been out in the rain.

"There are fighting families, flamingo races, and sprinklers, and getting hit by dogs and everything else. It's a comedy."

McGregor and Winslet are due to voice the lead characters, and Hahn says the computer-animated fantasy is funny "because gnomes are so low-tech".

He adds: "You're dealing with these little concrete sculptures in your backyard, little cement squirrels and mushrooms and things, so I think it's less about creating some splashy new technology and more about something that's really irreverent."

Disney has a five-year deal for development with John and his partner David Furnish's company Rocket Pictures.

Gnomeo and Juliet is written by Rob Sprackling and John Smith. Sprackling confirmed:"We are doing a project with Disney based on garden gnomes. It's a little story that we concocted using the famous English garden gnome as our loveable characters."

Sir Elton reportedly turned down the honour of having one of the gnomes modelled on him because he did not like its hair, rotund curves or its habit of spending a fortune on flowers.

Michael Eisner, head of Disney, has taken a strong interest in the project and warned his animators that he has been "nervous about these gnomes since day one."

The company's Chief Executive Officer, worried that the protagonists might look tacky, has been promised that the garden will only be "a bit garish", although there will be a supporting cast of plaster frogs, a Greek torso and a flamingo.

McGregor is currently filming the concluding chapter in the Star Wars series, which is due to conclude in Australia soon.

The climax of the film is a light-sabre battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker - Hayden Christensen. It ends when Obi-Wan cuts off Skywalker's right leg, and delivers a near fatal blow to his head.

The injuries force Skywalker to wear Darth Vader's trademark black helmet .

McGregor has denied reports that he was unhappy with the special effects packed films, saying: "I love being in them and I love the way kids love them.

"When kids come up and ask about light sabres and cutting Darth Maul in half and all that, I get a real kick out of it."

CAPTION(S):

DENCH: Also starring; GNOME LOVERS: Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet; ELTON: Film-maker
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 7, 2003
Words:508
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