All words: Tristan Lejeune
Nuts to this.
Even for a sub-par, non-Pixar animated kids outing, The Nut Job is pretty weak sauce. Will Arnett stars as Surly Squirrel (sigh). Is he surly, you ask? Highly.
Surly is an independent-type mammal who becomes a pariah when he accidentally destroys his park’s winter food supply. The multi-species social system banishes him from their midst, but if you’re thinking of Orwell, you’re thinking too hard. Out on the 3D streets of the city Surly (Seriousl, Surly? Is this a Veggie Tale?) and his largely silent rat sidekick discover what could be sustenance salvation for themselves and the park too: a nut shop.
Said nut shop is, bien sur, merely a front for a bunch of gangsters – who have the blockheaded look of thugs from “Grant Theft Auto” cutaway scenes – trying to rob the bank across the street. The pile-on of nut heist with bank heist leads to only some of The Nut Job‘s needless and annoying complications.
The entire plot, from the animals’ perspective, centers around a Dagwood sandwich of mistrusts and mammal-on-mammal betrayal in the quest to capture all that food. The characters, including a power-hungry raccoon voiced by Liam Neeson and a blustering fake hero squirrel from Brendan Fraser, are just not strong enough to support that much pointless subterfuge and backstabbing. How hard is to get a bunch of nuts out of a shop?! For more effective and efficient animal nut thievery storytelling, see Chip n’ Dale doing battle with Donald Duck in any of several classic Disney cartoons.
Katherine Heigl proves she can be annoying even when you can’t see her; her female lead squirrel does little but whine and boss people around. Maya Rudolph fares better as a comic relief dog, but really, this a group of very forgettable quadrupeds.
Does Surly learn his lesson? Eh, mostly. I wish Arnett could get better work than as a purple rodent with lessons to learn at all, but he demonstrates some pluck and escapes with his tail intack.
Things escalate messily, but at least the proceedings are short. The movie could serve as a conversation starter with children that leads to Charlotte’s Web, or at least The Great Mouse Detective.
Young kids will laugh at The Nut Job because most of its humor comes from whirling slapstick and fart jokes. Slightly older ones will get its message of honoring your word and success through cooperation. Parents will yearn for summer, when children’s movies tend to have a little more creative oomph behind them.