It seems strange to me that, despite the fantastic increase in quality of animation, many animated movies now can still be deemed a success if they’re made cheaply enough and then released at the right time. The Nut Job, as I write this, has already turned a modest profit and had a sequel greenlit. Despite the fact that it’s nothing special.
The plot concerns a selfish squirrel named Surly (Will Arnett) who is banished from the park after his latest escapade ends up burning down the main tree, home to some of the creatures and storage facility for the winter food supply. Surly heads into the city, a busy and dangerous place. It may seem scary, but the outlook improves when Surly finds a store selling nuts, lots of nuts. The store is being looked after by a bunch of crooks, who are using the place as a cover for their bank robbery. While the human crooks plot their robbery, Surly plots his own. He’s soon joined by Andie (Katherine Heigl) and some others from the park, all agreeing to work together in an attempt to replenish the food supply for the park.
The Nut Job benefits from a great vocal cast, which makes it even more saddening that nobody was really used to their potential. I’m a big fan of Arnett, who does just fine as Surly, and Liam Neeson is also a highlight as Raccoon, the leader of the park population, and Brendan Fraser does the goofy, heroic character well (a character he can play in his sleep by now, surely). Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph and Jeff Dunham join in with the fun, and Heigl gives what is, arguably, her least irritating performance in some time. Perhaps she should stick to animated fare until she can make amends, or try to, for past mistakes.
Director Peter Lepeniotis doesn’t overdo anything. The animation is acceptable, though far from gorgeous, the laughs come steadily and easily, and there’s a cheesy pop song used for laughs (this time it’s that irritable earworm known as Gangnam Style). The only really interesting aspect of the film is the script, co-written by Lepeniotis with Lorne Cameron, and some help from Robert Reece. Taking a bunch of animals who want food for the winter and juxtaposing them with bank robbers is pretty simple and effective, but the political commentary that comes to the fore in the second half of the movie is somewhat unexpected. It turns out that the film isn’t just about teamwork and trust, it’s also about control and the risks involved with blindly following authority figures. I’m not sure if this will sit easily with everyone, but it’s certainly the one thing that held my attention in between all of the other moments that I’d seen before.
The Nut Job is probably going to be one of the lesser animated movies released this year. Having said that, there’s still enough here to entertain the kids, and the adults should find it a relatively painless experience.
DIRECTOR: PETER LEPENIOTIS
WRITER: LORNE CAMERON, PETER LEPENIOTIS, ROBERT REECE
STARS: WILL ARNETT, KATHERINE HEIGL, BRENDAN FRASER, LIAM NEESON, STEPHEN LANG, MAYA RUDOLPH, JEFF DUNHAM
RUNTIME: 85 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: CANADA/SOUTH KOREA/USA