Rated PG for action and some rude humor
Screenplay by Bob Barlen, Cal Brunker, and Scott Bindley, story by Peter Lepeniotis, Cal Brunker and Daniel Woo, based on characters created by Peter Lepeniotis
Directed by Cal Brunker
Starring Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph, Jackie Chan, Isabela Moner, Peter Stormare, Bobby Cannavale, Bobby Moynihan
Grade: Two stars
Sometimes, the sequel is actually better than the original.
Now, I’m not saying that “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” is in any way a fantastic film, or probably even a good one. But does manage to be a vast improvement over the original film, with solid animation and moments of genuine humor and cleverness. It was clearly put together with a certain measure of thoughtfulness and creativity, and startled not one but two genuine laughs out of me. Though it’s too scattered to qualify as the kind of movie adults might be willing to watch without a child in the immediate vicinity, watching it for the sake of the child or children in your life won’t be a hardship.
The opening minutes of “The Nut Job 2” neatly encapsulate the plot of the first film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, then promptly blows up their nut store paradise and sends everyone back to the park. Unfortunately, the town’s unscrupulous mayor plans on replacing the park with a cheaply made, unsafe amusement park, and the animals need to band together to save their home and defeat the mayor’s plans. Surly, the oddly-colored squirrel hero from the first movie, also gets a valuable lesson about hard work and working together.
The plot’s kind of a mess, and hits certain life lessons with all the grace and subtlety of a hammer. It briefly grinds to a halt about two-thirds of the way through so Surly can face a moral crisis, and the end is so standard they pulled it out of a box. Also, a really excellent early joke was already made by “Moana” last year, though with the production schedules of animated movies it’s safe to say that the “Nut Job” sequel came up with the idea on their own.
But sometimes, the filmmakers deliver the mishmash of clichés with a surprising amount of deftness and charm. The jokes meant for adults are neither naughty nor based on dated pop culture references, relying instead on a clever juxtaposition of cleverness and circumstance. Only a few made me laugh, but quite a few more than that made me smile. The villains are dramatic stereotypes, but entertaining to watch and particularly fun to hate in our current economic climate. There are also a few genuinely sweet moments, including a ridiculous relationship between two little pug dogs that slowly but steadily grows on you and the bond Surly has with his various friends.
Jackie Chan, playing a tiny but mighty mouse named Mr. Feng, is a delight. He’s not in the movie nearly long enough, but I enjoyed every moment he was onscreen. He also gets some genuinely funny moments, including a nice bit with cotton candy. If you’re a fan of Jackie, you’ll enjoy him here.
Who knows, you might even enjoy the movie. By the end of “The Nut Job 2,” I was endeared to this pleasant little mess of a show almost against my will. It might not quite be a good movie, but it’s better than it has any right to be. Sometimes, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
Note: If you haven’t seen the original film, don’t bother staying for the movie’s end credits scene – it won’t make any sense. (Though honestly, it’s probably not worth staying unless you loved the original movie. The reaction from the audience was... let’s call it underwhelming).