MOVIE REVIEW: THE NUT JOB / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: PETER LEPENIOTIS / SCREENPLAY: LORNE CAMERON, PETER LEPENIOTIS / STARRING: WILL ARNETT, BRENDAN FRASER, LIAM NEESON, KATHERINE HEIGL, JEFF DUNHAM, MAYA RUDOLPH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It’s sometimes hard reviewing a family-oriented animated movie, because for all its flaws, if it entertains kids, then its job is done. However, that does not mean that such a film can coast by with naff puns, cheese farts and ideas nicked from stockpiles of animated features from the last two decades. Enter this South Korean co-produced effort from Open Road Films. Already lined up for a sequel and with a rather impressive voice cast, The Nut Job is harmless, but the problem lies in how derivative it all is.
Set in 1959 (not that the era is of much relevance to the story) in the fictitious town of Oakton, the film sees a renegade and selfish squirrel named Surly (Arnett) falling out with his fellow park animals, led by Raccoon (Neeson), and being banished. However, when he finds himself hitting the jackpot at a peanut shop, which is currently a front for a bank robbery, the pack’s desperation for food forces a fragile truce. To say that The Nut Job has no ideas would be a fib; indeed the plot’s story of selfishness opening up to generosity is a fine one for toddlers, and the ending refreshingly sees the true hero choosing to stay out of the spotlight. That being said, by the time we get to the film’s genuinely good-willed finale, most will be too bored to care about the resolution.
The real issue here is that anything that works is indebted to something else. For instance, Surly is like a bad boy's answer to A Bug’s Life’s Flick and the villain of the piece has Hopper-inspired moments, not to mention a Lotso Huggin’ Bear (Toy Story 3) vibe, replacing Sunnyside with a park. In fact, you spend half the time picking out where you have seen this or that in other movies. Antz, Bolt, Madagascar and especially Over the Hedge can all be felt in this film’s DNA and it’s all so lazily inconsequential. The Nut Job has a potentially interesting plot but the human element is drowned in naff gangster/heist film clichés and the animal’s story feels too similar to other and better, animated fare.
Animation does not always have to be polished; heck, much of the appeal of madcap films like Panique au Village, Belleville Rendezvous and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox can be attributed to the rougher creative stylings. However, The Nut Job feels more like a Disney Junior television special than a cinema release. There is intermittent charm and certain settings are easy on the eye, but some of the voice-work feels forced and the jokes majorly fall flat. Arnett’s leading squirrel attempts to be a fluffier, naughtier version of Remy (from Ratatouille, also featuring Arnett) but is not as likeable. In fact the only really noble character in the film is don’t-call-me-Princess-Anna red squirrel Andie (Heigl) and the token dozy dog Precious (Rudolph).
All in all – and with the teeth-grinding inclusion of an all-animal “Gangnam Style” rendition (not once but twice) neither forgotten nor forgiven – this animated effort is sadly a missable affair. Despite a stronger closing 10-15 minutes, it cannot escape feeling like a sub-par effort. There could have been a genuinely mad caper here but the makers have been watching too many flicks and omitted to distinguish theirs from the general run, leaving a harmless but massively lazy caper that kids and adults will soon forget. Think Shark Tale with squirrels, rats and raccoons!
Expected Rating: 6 out of 1o