The story of a squirrel banished from his home who’s later forced to save the day should not be a tough nut to crack, and for the most part the makers of The Nut Job succeed in making a mildly amusing animated pic aimed directly at kids. Be warned, though: There’s not much here for adults.
Surly (Will Arnett) is a squirrel who insists he doesn’t need friends to be happy. With winter approaching and a food shortage looming, Surly accidentally burns down the oak tree he and his fellow animals call home. Banished from the park and forced to live in the city, Surly and his friend Buddy, a rat, stumble upon a nut store that seems to be the answer to their problems.
Unfortunately the guys running the nut store are burglars plotting to tunnel into the bank that’s next door. The criminals, led by a fresh-from-prison Mafioso type named King (Stephen Lang) and his dog Precious (Maya Rudolph), see Surly as a trivial nuisance. Meanwhile, animal leader Raccoon (Liam Neeson) dispatches squirrels Andie (Katherine Heigl) and park hero Grayson (Brendan Fraser) to the city to collect food. Naturally their paths collide with Surly; hijinks ensue.
Director and co-writer Peter Lepeniotis’ film has no intention of appealing to adults, and is devoid of social commentary. Fair enough. Not every movie needs to be deep and thought-provoking.
But the story is expectedly conventional and there were long gaps between the sounds of children laughing. Perhaps it’s because of sequences like this: Upon discovers a room full of nuts and screams that he found “the lost city of Nutlantis.” Surly says, “Sorry about that, went a little nuts” and then asks Buddy if he just said anything stupid. Yes Surly, you did, and the sound of crickets in my head throughout the sequence didn’t shield me from any of your stupid comments. As a whole, the dialog by Lorne Cameron is cutesy and forgettable and not funny.
The 3D is also unimpressive. It mostly falls flat save for a few scenes with nuts and water flying into our faces. The colors are fair but not dynamic, and the backgrounds are a blurry mess. It was made by ToonBox Entertainment then picked up for distribution by Open Road Films last April, making it the first animated release in Open Road’s two-year history. Here’s hoping the studio sticks to dramas (it gave us End of Watch and The Grey) and gets more selective with its other fare.
THE NUT JOB (2) Directed by Peter Lepeniotis • Starring Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Liam Neeson, Brendan Fraser • Rated PG • 90 min. • At Maya Cinemas, Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas.