The Nut Job (Open Road Films)
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.
Starring (voices of) Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias, Sarah Gadon, James Rankin, Scott Yaphe, Joe Pingue, Annick Obonsawin, Julie Lemieux, Robert Tinkler.
Written by Lorne Cameron, Peter Lepeniotis and Daniel Woo.
Directed by Peter Lepeniotis.
We are quickly moving into dangerous territory concerning computerized animation. On the one hand, it’s great that technology has improved the overall visual quality of computerized animated features (see: Barbie direct-to-video features), but on the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for acceptable writing, storytelling, and other elements of filmmaking that seem to be falling by the wayside. The Nut Job is an excellent example of how technology can help advance the visual quality of an animated film, while ignoring tried-and-true habits of presentable filmmaking.
Will Arnett voices Surly, an outcast squirrel living in a park with other woodland critters in a city park (we assume it’s somewhere near New York, since most of the characters have a Brooklyn accent) set sometime in the late 40s or early 50s. Surly is a rogue rodent, refusing to play along with the more communal animals involved in the political structure of the park hierarchy. The self-appointed sage leader is Raccoon (Liam Neeson), who bans Surly after a disastrous attempt to hijack a nut vendor cart. Surly and his silent pal Rat head out into the city, where they discover a “gold mine” nut shop - which is really a front for a group of Human mobsters (straight from a Jimmy Cagney or Humphrey Bogart movie) who are planning to break into the bank next door by tunneling underground. Surly also makes friends with a pug dog named Precious (Maya Rudolph), who belongs to one of the gangsters.
Raccoon enlists two other squirrels named Andie (Kahterine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser) to check on Surly when word gets out about the nut shop. Andie is a team player who likes Surly, while Grayson is a jock-like dingbat with a narcissism problem. As the mobsters’ tunnel gets closer to the bank vault, the parkland critters contend with Surly – who must decide whether to take all the nuts he wants – or save the park from falling under tyrannical rule.
From a distance, The Nut Job looks like an adequate, visually sound animated feature – but, there’s one problem when you look a little closer. It turns out the film’s producers forgot to hire a writer, or someone who has the slightest bit of storytelling talent. Heck, it might have been a good idea to employ a garden-variety comedian so there might have been at least one humorous moment in the film. What we’re left with is a cartoon that looks good, while void of any heart or mirth.
Sure, many kids will get a few giggles from the pratfalls and potty humor, but The Nut Job is a movie that must be endured by adults – should their kids force them to buy tickets.
One more thing: If you’re crazy enough to stick around for the end credits, you’ll be treated to a cartoon version of Psy’s Gangham Style song, complete with the Nut Job characters dancing along (Note to Nut Job producers: Ganham Style went out of style two years ago. Not timely. Or funny. Or worthy of animation. Yikes…).