The Nut Job film review
The Nut Job (2014)
(the voices of): Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Duham, Brendan Fraser
Open Road Films
CRITIC’S RATING: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
Today’s kiddies really do not realize how some of their contemporary cartoon icons fail to measure up to the creativity, cleverness and carefree spirit of our nostalgic childhood animated favorites from yesteryear. Oldsters could indeed look fondly upon the favorable animated characters that have stimulated memories from their youth and enjoy these same iconic fictional friends half a century later.
Case in point: The Nut Job presents a purple-coated roguish squirrel named Surly with larcenous intentions for the youngsters to currently behold with hungry imagination. However, middle-agers (and dare we say even older folks) were first introduced to an impish All-American squirrel from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota known as Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and his lovable lunk-headed sidekick Bullwinkle the Moose back in the early 1960’s. We still LOVE and revere the do-gooder Rocky as his spunky adventures are still fresh in the mindset of former rug rats everywhere. We remember and cherish Rocky upon his creation some five decades ago. The question remains: will The Nut Job’s Surly have the same remembrance fifty years from now as our beloved Rocky? Let us say that this is highly doubtful.
Director/co-writer Peter Lepeniotis (who had created Surly Squirrel nearly a decade ago) serves up a full-length 3-D animated feature with old-fashioned overtones. Predictably, the tykes will cater to the seemingly colorful antics of Surly Squirrel and his carousing cohorts but this Canadian-South Korean-American co-production will not be as playful to the grown-ups looking for some leftover irreverence and inspired inside satire. Instead, The Nut Job is surprisingly flat and flavorless. Even the gimmicky notion of connecting the once trendy South Korean pop music sensation Psy (of “Gangnam Style” fame) to the movie’s giddy soundtrack seems rather labored and inconsequential.
The premise centers around the aforementioned mischievous Surly (as voiced by Will Arnett from TV’s “The Millers”) whose devilish deed in setting fire to the Oakton City’s grand oak tree in Liberty Park has left many of the starving animals vulnerable and incensed. As winter is approaching and the animals’ stored food supply is destroyed, Surly seems rather indifferent to his accountability. Understandably, the four-legged rascal Surly is ousted from his home and heads towards the hustle-and-bustle of the city. The agitator behind the self-serving Surly’s departure is the dastardly raccoon leader (as voiced by Liam Neeson) and his right-hand Mole (as voiced by Jeff Dunham) that orders the exile of the troubled squirrel.
Somehow, Surly must compensate for the damage that has left him and his fellow park dwellers in survival mode for food. So what is Surly’s solution to rectify his hunger pains dilemma and win back the trust and friendship of his former creature cronies? Well, the opportunity to rob some goodies from Maury’s Nut Shop may be just the kind of “nut” job that could do the trick and put him in favor with his furry peers. After all, there are all kinds of desirable munchies waiting to be snatched from an assortment of tasty peanuts waiting to be scooped up.
Surly charts his heist and figures on invading Maury’s Nut Shop from the basement via a tunnel. The problem with Surly’s agenda, however, is that he discovers the criminal intentions of some human thieves wanting to rob a bank with using his tunneled route that is sure to complicate his mission. As if this is not bad enough, Surly has to figure out how to outwit the presence of a guard dog named Precious the pug (as voiced by Maya Rudolph) assigned to keep a close eye on the shop.
More help is on the way as squirrels in the self-indulgent Grayson (as voiced by Brendan Fraser) and straight-laced Andie (as voiced by Katherine Hiegl) are told to hunt for food and bring back their feasting findings. Soon, the seedy-minded Surly will be tamed by Andie as she becomes his love interest in the middle of his nut caper. Also in tow is Surly’s mute and clueless rat pal named Buddy who does bring some occasional spark to the proceedings.
The animation in The Nut Job is a mixed bag. Some may embrace the computer animation as pleasantly understated in simplicity as compared to other decorative animated films that have a more flashy texture and spryness. While the film’s sheen feels clunky and sluggish, The Nut Job’s biggest concerns stem from a thin premise with disjointed laughs rooted in dismissive flatulent humor and cute but colorless critters.
They say that even a blind squirrel can find a nut at any given notice. Well, it is time for Surly and company to lose the blindfold…don’t you think?
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: