Executive producer Elton John’s imprint is all over Sherlock Gnomes, the sequel to his 2011 animated effort, Gnomeo & Juliet, a cutesy toon take on Shakespeare that inevitably has sparked another literary-inspired sequel riffing on the legend on Britain’s most famous investigator, Sherlock Holmes. You can almost see the committee meeting to decide where to go next: “Hey, what rhymes with gnomes? Oh wait. Holmes! Let’s do it and just figure out some sort of story to go with the title!”

As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this largely flat sequel is blessed with a terrific returning voice cast to add much-needed spark, including James McAvoy and Emily Blunt back as Gnomeo and Juliet. The pair has survived the battle of the garden gnomes between the Montagues and Capulets and moved to London, where they plan to open their garden just in time for spring. Much to their horror, they discover that all of their garden gnomes are missing and, as it turns out, the same thing is happening in gardens all over the city. Who you gonna call? The Gnomebusters themselves: the great Sherlock Gnomes and his faithful sidekick Watson.

Joining the cast in those respective voice roles are Johnny Depp and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who lend a bit of wit and whimsy that might be appreciated by adults dragged to this by their kids but are lost on the small fries who won’t get the funny references such as Holmes suspecting an ordinary bulldog in the park is really the Hound of the Baskervilles. I laughed at that bit, but most of the flick is aimed at the youngest members of the family. Holmes and Watson, supposedly Gnomes themselves, are too subtly outfitted to match the rest of the cast and seem like cartoon versions of the real human counterparts they play. Aside from some clever 2D black-and-white sequences meant to show what goes on in Sherlock’s head, the overall un-inventive animation doesn’t help to pique interest or make this seem anything more original than an excuse to fill the soundtrack with a few Elton John classics, as well as a couple of new tunes written by the musical superstar and his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin. One of those is for Mary J. Blige, who joins the cast as Irene, a Victorian doll with a rocky past involving Sherlock.

There’s always the obligatory villain, of course, and in this case it is the classic Holmes nemesis Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou) — in the guise of the slimy mascot of Goobarb Pies, a pure junk food product oozing out of a mischievous character that causes lots of mayhem. Returning from the first film’s cast are Michael Caine and Maggie Smith, as heads of the manor and now retiring from running the garden; Stephen Merchant; and Ozzy Osbourne, who is back as Fawn but sadly has precious little to do in the frenetic plot revolving around Sherlock’s and Watson’s attempt to solve the mystery of the disappearing Gnomes.

John has not missed a beat in making this all about the music catalog, and Paramount and MGM, who teamed on the release, certainly will try to capitalize on the plush toys handed to critics attending the screening just so they don’t forget what these movies are really all about. Paramount opens the Rocket Pictures production Friday, just in time for spring break many of the kids who probably will eat it up even after being exposed to far more sophisticated toons from Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks and the like. The director is John Stevenson, working with a script by Ben Zazove and several writers with story credit. Producers in addition to EP John are Steve Hamilton Shaw, David Furnish, and Carolyn Soper.

Do you plan to see Sherlock Gnomes? Let us know what you think.