This has been a decent year for animation. I missed Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Rio 2, but The LEGO Movie and How to Train Your Dragon 2 were both successful commercially and critically. I loved both movies, the latter more so, and I am looking forward to watching Big Hero 6 and The Boxtrolls, as well as the Guillermo del Toro produced The Book of Life. But in the early weeks of the 2014 movie season there was a little one by the name of The Nut Job. This is a movie which currently sits on a 10% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Looking at that, one could easily dismiss it completely and scoff at it just because of the negativity. I intentionally skipped its theatrical release, but since it’s a 2014 release and it’s streaming on Netflix, I thought I’d give it a try. As expected, the movie isn’t good, but I am here to tell you that isn’t all that bad either.
The Nut Job tells the tale of Surly, a mischievous squirrel who has been booted out of his group for reasons that only make sense in the setting of this particular movie. His best buddy is a rat named, well Buddy, and Buddy happens to look uncannily like Remy from Ratatouille (no, I don’t think all rats look the same, so don’t accuse me of racism you sensitive readers.) Well, Surly and Buddy decide to raid a nut store because… they’re squirrels. And… they need nuts to survive and… yeah. But that isn’t all. Because in the world of The Nut Job, this particular store happens to be a front for a gang of human criminals who are planning a heist of their own. And this is where things get messy.
In all truthfulness, I enjoyed the first half hour of this movie. It was fun, action packed, and surprisingly funny. The computer animation looked clean and fresh and easy on the eyes, while the depth of the scenery seemed large in scale. Liam Neeson (also the voice of Good Cop, Bad Cop, and Pa Cop in The LEGO Movie was decent and recognizable as the raccoon leader of the group of rodents. Will Arnett was fine throughout as Surly (better than he was in TMNT). Brendan Fraser had maybe five lines in the entire thing, which disappointed me because I have been a fan of his. Why doesn’t Brendan Fraser get good roles anymore? Someone needs to change this.
After the first half hour of the movie, things get weird. A previously introduced dog is able to talk and becomes weight of a character that is more annoying than anything else. The human storyline converges with the nut heist and the movie turns from a fun action adventure to a boring heist parody that feels like a spin on Ocean’s Eleven. And then there is the leader of the human gang who seems to be designed exactly like DeNiro in Goodfellas. The movie has ideas of what it wants to do, but it never completes on them. And did you expect a kids movie about a nut heist to not use a handful of nut related puns? Well, take that handful and then square it. “Nut this,” “nut that,” it’s all about nuts! And it doesn’t stop with nuts. “Put a tail on him,” one squirrel says. We get it already!
The Nut Job benefits from several pros, but none of them are enough to warrant a positive review. It starts off enjoyable (maybe it was just because I was expecting it to be awful), but as the minutes tick away, the story, while becoming more intense on paper, becomes boring and sloppy on screen. It tries to appeal to an older audience at times (there is a nice “Winter is Coming” line that ideally fits into the story), but all else is lost in translation. The Nut Job isn’t completely terrible, but in a year of animated films like How to Train Your Dragon 2, it’s easily a throwaway.
The Nut Job (2014)
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Cast: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson
Writer: Lorne Cameron
Director: Peter Lepeniotis