Let's get nuts, if we don't fall asleep first.
The Nut Job is directed by Peter Lepeniotis and stars the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Jeff Dunham, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, and Maya Rudolph.
Some how, some way, an animated film about a selfish purple squirrel was able to score a profit large enough to warrant a sequel that will be hitting theaters next weekend.
It's not hard to notice that the gravel-voiced Will Arnett has an ongoing track record of voicing animated characters who all happen to be conceited troublemakers, from the Lego version of Batman, to BoJack Horseman, and to The Nut Job's central squirrel, Surly. I'm not sure if Arnett has a secret fascination for characters who start out selfish and cruel and eventually evolve to be more caring and sympathetic. But unlike Lego Batman and BoJack Horseman, Surly is not a character that deserves to be praised or remembered in any way. Surly the Squirrel, and The Nut Job, began life in Peter Lepeniotis' 2005 animated short film, Surly Squirrel. in which Surly and his rat friend, Buddy, go head to head with Raccoon and his followers. Raccoon's side is meant to be "good" in the short, but The Nut Job decides to do a role reversal.
In The Nut Job, Raccoon is the leader of a pack of urban wildlife in Liberty Park. Food is short, and winter is coming (*cue the Game of Thrones theme song*), so Raccoon decides to send out red squirrel, Andy (Katherine Heigl), and the dim-witted gray squirrel, Grayson (Brendan Fraser), to go out into the city and scavenge some food. Also scouting for food are the Liberty Park outcasts: purple squirrel Surly and the mute rat Buddy. Surly and Andy come across a peanut cart and try to scavenge some peanuts, but the end result is a runaway cart that makes its way into Liberty Park and destroys the giant tree where the animals store their food. As a result, Surly is banished from the park. Shortly afterwards, Surly comes across a nut shop which luckily holds more than enough food for the park animals to get through the winter. Surly plots a heist to get his nut fill, but it turns out that the nut shop is a hideout for a group of criminals who wish to rob the bank that just so happens to be adjacent to the shop.
As I mentioned, The Nut Job does a role reversal with Surly and Raccoon, even though The Nut Job's version of Surly doesn't represent anything close to an admirable central character. The film makes a blatant effort to make Surly as stubborn and self-centered as possible, with barely anything happening for us to say at the end of the day, "Surly was a hero." There isn't even a sense of beginning, middle, and end for Surly. He starts the film as an outcast and is pretty much despised by every Liberty Park animal. He gets banished when his standing as Liberty Park animal resident would declare that he is everything but banished. Surly then spends much of the remaining run time either trying to help himself get the nuts or help the others who find out about the nut shop. The movie just sort of makes up what it wants Surly to do, and it tries to give him closure at the end by throwing in some half-hearted lines about sharing and caring.
But enough about Surly. What else does the film do wrong? One thing that the film definitely can't get right is the plot, which runs out of ideas rather quickly in between necessary scenes. The script tries to mask these disparities with lackluster plot twists and lousy jokes.
- There's basically nothing that I could understandably categorize as a high point. Katherine Heigl gives the most spirited effort out of the voice cast, and her character, Andy, is the most tolerable out of a slew of annoying nutcrackers. Wil Arnett and Liam Neeson are on autopilot, but Maya Rudolph, who voices a pug named Precious, also sounds like she's at least trying. There's a decent collection of voices at work here, and it's a shame that it largely went to waste.
- The writing, which is lazy and missing any sort of sophisticated wit. The jokes amount to little more than farts, burps, and unfunny nut puns, the sort of stuff that mostly comes out of somewhere like Happy Madison Productions. There's no effort here to be clever or smart, and it's nothing more than half-baked, comedy trash.
The fact that The Nut Job was commercially successful enough to land a sequel just drives me nuts. You really can't do any kind of in-depth discussion on it because of its uninspiring plot and its bad habit of settling for the lowest forms of humor that any little toddler just might happen to find funny. The animation isn't up to whatever standards that an animated film would have in 2014, and it's you'll likely forget most of it all by the time you finish the bag of peanuts you might be eating while watching. It's an insipid nut of a movie that should be thrown away instead of being cracked open and enjoyed.
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