The first few months of the year are considered a dumping ground for studios who generally release subpar titles with very little fanfare. The winter can also be slim pickings when it comes to family friendly entertainment. In 2013, Dreamworks capitalized on the slow market with The Croods, a gorgeously animated picture that went on to do over $587 million at the box office. There’s no such luck this year as parents would have to settle for taking their kids to see The Nut Job.
Set during the 1950’s, The Nut Job follows one Surly (Will Arnett), a misanthropic squirrel who only looks out for himself. Surly’s only friend is Buddy (Robert Tinkler), a rat who looks like a grungy and emaciated version of Remy from Ratatouille. None of the other animals in picturesque Liberty Park like him though Andie (Katherine Heigl) seems to be slightly sympathetic. Autumn is nearly over, but the food supply is short for the coming winter. Andie and the exceedingly heroic Grayson (Brendan Fraser) clash with Surly over the nuts from a vendor cart. Their argument accidentally ignites the propane tank and burns down the tree that everyone calls home. Under the stern leadership of Raccoon (Liam Neeson), the animals vote to banish Surly from the park.
Surly and Buddy are left to fend for themselves in the big city against pigeons and sewer rats. As luck would have it, they stumble upon a nut store with a bountiful supply to feed them for ages to come. The store happens to be the staging ground for a quartet of gangsters led by King (Stephen Lang). Their plan is to tunnel into the nearby bank and replace all the bags of money with sacks full of nuts so no one will notice the cash is missing. Surly and the other park animals forge an uneasy alliance to gather the nuts and avoid detection by the humans.
The Nut Job has a clever premise with a bank heist concurrent to the cute critters pulling off one of their own in the background. The filmmakers certainly aimed high by attempting to imbue the manic energy of the classic Looney Tunes shorts with an allegory straight out of Animal Farm. However, the movie never lives up to those lofty goals. The script suffers from the same lazy pitfalls of other second-rate animated flicks, riddled with fart jokes and contrived pop culture references. Angry Birds? Seriously? Despite being a period piece, The Nut Job prominently features the novelty hit “Gangnam Style.” Its familiar techno beats play over a celebratory sequence during the film and an animated version of PSY pops up during the end credits for the requisite dance party. Perhaps, it was included because Nut Job was co-produced by a South Korean studio. In any event, the song’s popularity died out long before Nut Job saw the light of day and was buried alongside other one-hit wonders like the Macarena and “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
It also seems like the writers couldn’t be bothered with creating names for every character. Well, this squirrel is surly, so let’s call him Surly. What about his buddy? Buddy. And the raccoon and mole? Raccoon and Mole. Job well done.
The Nut Job was budgeted at $42.8 million, which is a fraction of what Pixar works with, but other studios have done much better animation with not much more. Disney’s knockoff Planes looks worlds better than Nut Job on a budget of $50 in spite of a screenplay that was just as uninspired. The movie is certainly colorful, but the designs and the movements appear to have been animated a decade ago.
If anyone was expecting the celebrity cast to bring some sparkle to the proceedings, you will be disappointed. Aside from the baritone voices of Will Arnett and Liam Neeson, none of them are recognizable and only Maya Rudolph as an affectionate pug has any charm.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As stated earlier, colors are bright and bold. The transfer may not be reference quality, but it is clean and flawless.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is well done with dialogue coming in crisp and clear. There’s additional bass during some of the movie’s more manic sequences.
Storyboards (2:42) are animated storyboards.
The Great Nut Heist (2:06) is a quick behind-the-scenes promo.
Surly Squirrel (10:52) is the original animated short by director Peter Lepeniotis that served as the inspiration for “The Nut Job.” In it, a primitive looking Surly and Buddy plot to swipe a discarded pizza from a trashcan.
Nuts & Robbers (4:22) is another short featuring Surly and Buddy’s run-in with a pair of bank robbers. This was far more entertaining than the actual feature.
End Credit Sequence (3:45) is the full credits set to “Gangnam Style.”
Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes, a DVD version of the movie, and digital download codes.
Film Value: 2
The concept of The Nut Job is a bit similar to 2006’s Over the Hedge, which shared a co-writer in Lorne Cameron. None of the furry fauna in either movie were all that memorable. Even the zany interludes of Scrat from the Ice Age series were more fun. As Pixar has done again and again, you can create an animated film with enough intelligence and heart to appeal to adults and children alike. The Nut Job might win over the youngest of age, but it will make others fall into an early hibernation.