The Other Side of Animation: The Nut Job Review

Well, I guess you can say it’s better to tackle a terrible movie sooner than later. I mean, I wish I didn’t have to, but that would mean that films like Peter Lepeniotis’s The Nut Job would have to be good, which it isn’t. You would think movies by now would be amazing, and animation studios and teams would know what they should do. Sadly, that isn’t the case. The Nut Job was the first animated film released in the states in 2014 on January 17th, and while it was rightfully panned by the critics, it was a financial success and is unfortunately getting a sequel next year. I think I shouldn’t waste any more time since I need to actually talk about the movie. Let’s get nutty with The Nut Job.

The film follows the exploits of Surly Squirrel, voiced by Will Arnett. He is a rebellious squirrel who has conflicting ideals with the animals that live in the park, that are led by a raccoon voiced by Liam Neeson. After accidentally blowing up the tree, Surly is banished from the park never to return. Coincidentally, that same day, he finds out about a nut store opening across from the park. The twist is that the nut store is actually an undercover scheme by a group of robbers who want to rob the bank that is across the street. Think of the set-up like Small Time Crooks, but with squirrels, and not as amazing as it sounds. Can Surly and his friends break into the nut store, grab their nuts, and make it back alive while avoiding the robbers? Well, you will have to see the movie, or go the lazy way out and read the Wikipedia entry.

So, what is wrong with the movie? Well, I could say it’s bad and leave it at that, but you would want to know specifically why it’s bad. Let’s start with the humor. If you guessed that there were many, and put a lot of heavy emphasis on the word “many”, nut-based puns, then you would be correct. How many would you think land on all four with a perfect 10 landing? If you said none, that would be correct. The comedy is not all that well-executed, with many of the puns and actual jokes failing to bring a chuckle out of me. Oh, and there are so many fart jokes in this film, that I thought I was watching a film directed by a guy who actually worked on Pixar films, not the Farley Brothers (Dumb and Dumber). There is also this grimy sense of corporate higher-ups sticking their fingers in the punch bowl with one little element. The Nut Job, which is set in the 50s, has a sequence where the out-of-nowhere hit, Gangnam Style by Korean artist Psy, plays twice during the movie.  It has no reason to be in the movie. It was basically put there because some old man running the company heard it was a popular song among the kids these days. I guess he also thought we liked to play stickball as well. Seriously, some songs fit in promotional materials, but not in the movie when your setting is supposed to be of a decade that didn’t have pop music from 2013. This shouldn’t be such a huge issue, but with how mediocre the overall film is, this one little scene just makes me cringe.

The animation, while being bright and colorful, has bland designs, and the animation doesn’t have the fluidity that the comedy and action requires. They really needed the team behind some of the films like Hotel Transylvania or The LEGO Movie to match the quick Looney Toons-style comedy that the old cartoons were known for. It’s really clunky, and you see why a lot of CG-animated films have budgets of $100 mil or more so they can have fluid movements/polish with the characters.

Speaking of characters, no one is really that memorable or likable. It doesn’t help that the community that lives in the tree in the park will ostracize you for not following the code, and not only was Surly not the cause of the park’s tree to explode, but it was the community that ostracized him who was responsible. How messed up is that? Liam Neeson as the raccoon, which is just named Raccoon, is boring and uninteresting, as was Neeson’s voicework in this move. It’s funny, because on top of the bank robbers, the film would have been more entertaining if it was just the little animals foiling the bank robbers. There was no need for two individual villains. The main female character, voiced by Katherine Heigl, has no real personality and is every boring generic female lead character that you can think of that you have seen in boring animated films and films in general. At least she wasn’t the love interest for Surly. Another miscast and a bit of the film’s whiplash comes with the pug character, which is voiced by Maya Rudolph. The dog doesn’t talk for about half of the movie and once she starts talking, it’s the wrong voice. I don’t blame Maya Rudolph since I think she can be funny, but this was the wrong casting decision. The only actors I think put any actual effort in this film were Will Arnett as Surly, and Brendan Fraser as Grayson. They are the only ones who I felt like tried to make the script and material work for them, but even then, still couldn’t pull off a good performance. It’s a shame too, since there are funny people in this film, but the material given to them either wasn’t enough, or the voice director, or whoever was in charge of their performances, limited their potential.

The biggest sin this movie provides us with is that it had elements that could have made for an entertaining Looney Toons-style short film. Unfortunately, it seems like corporate executives put their grubby hands into the development of the film and made it another film that represents why Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar are good at their jobs. I kind of backhand those big three companies sometimes for their questionable decisions in movie making, but at least when they hit the nail on the head, the movies they make are amazing.

Even then, if this film didn’t reek of corporate shenanigans, it still would have been a bad movie. The Nut Job feels soulless, mean-spirited, drawn-out, clunky, outdated in the visual department, and very mediocre in the story and humor department. While I stand by that it’s a terrible movie, I can still think of other films that are much worse than The Nut Job. It has very little redeeming about it. Luckily a lot of the actors in this film like Will Arnett and Liam Neeson will go on to do better voice work for much better movies like The LEGO Movie and The Prophet. Only see The Nut Job if you have no other animated films to check out. Well, we got that out of the way, how about we move on to our buddies in Spain? Next time, we will take a look at one of the films that won a Goya award for best animated feature, Tad the Lost Explorer. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!