The Other Side of Animation 107: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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When you are making a movie these days, you have to go all in with the commitment of making it. You have to put 100% into directing, writing, acting, editing, composing, and you get the idea. If you are not using all cylinders while in production, the end product is going to show. This is especially true with sequels, due to their infamous nature of not always being better than the first film. You would think that making a sequel would be easier, but that is sadly not always the case. There is a reason why so many film series should have only stayed as one movie. Hence the focus on today’s review, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.  A sequel to the surprising financial hit from 2014, Nutty by Nature came out to the fanfare of no one. The original film got lucky, since it came out in January of 2014, made a lot of money during a month where mostly bad movies are dumped into theaters. Three years later, we have a sequel that had very little hype or excitement, and looked like a waste of time. To no surprise, this sequel to a film no one was asking for underperformed at the box office, only making a tiny bit over $40 mil on a $40 mil budget, and getting mostly negative reviews. I was not particularly looking forward to this one for obvious reasons, but after watching it, it’s the perfect example of my overall opening paragraph. What do I mean? Well, let’s see why no one went nutty over Nutty by Nature.

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The sequel picks up six months after the first film, as we follow Surly Squirrel, voiced by Will Arnett, living the big life inside the closed-down nut shop with his animal friends. They have all the nuts in the world to eat, and live like fat little piglets. Unfortunately for him and his friends, the store blows up, and they are forced to scavenge for food back in the park. Even more unfortunately for them, the mayor of the town, voiced by SNL alumni Bobby Moynihan, decides that he wants to tear down the park and make it an amusement park. It’s up to Surly and his friends to take back the park from the evil mayor and his animal control henchman played by Peter Stormare. Can Surly get the help of some city mice led by Jackie Chan to save the park? Have you seen any “save the environment” films from the 90s?

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Okay, before we talk about the bad, let’s talk about the good. First off, the animation is surprisingly solid. Textures don’t look so straight-to-video, movements are way more cartoony and fluid, and everything feels more polished than the first film. The original was decent, but I could personally argue that it wasn’t up to theatrical quality standards, but that’s just me. Thankfully, everything is way more lush and vibrant than the last film. You can tell the entire team wanted to make a better-looking movie, and it did so on a $40 mil budget. The physical comedy is way better as well. The previous film had decent physical comedy, but because of the mediocre animation, the jokes didn’t land. My guess is that the directors and writers watched what Warner Animation Group is doing with physical comedy, like in Storks, to learn proper Looney Toons-style comedy. The next improvement is that the film is way less mean-spirited, with characters who are more tolerable. Some are still as annoying as they were in the first film, but I wasn’t just grinding my teeth together waiting for characters that weren’t utterly terrible to appear onscreen. I think my two favorite characters were the villains, the mayor and the animal control guy. I think Peter Stormare and Bobby Moynihan were having a blast being cartoon levels of evil. They aren’t original villains, or villains that are interesting, but for this type of movie, they were way more entertaining than they could have been, and probably had some of the best lines in the movie. The action in this film is also well executed, especially when you have Jackie Chan coming into play, who probably has some of the best scenes in the later part of film. They even have this cute romance between the pug and the mayor’s French bulldog. All throughout the film, you can tell the people making it tried harder. They put more effort into the writing, the animation, the comedy, and put out a better product.

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With all that said, this film is by no means one of 2017’s best animated films. As much as I say everything has improved, a lot of the humor and writing is not great. It’s very weak writing, and if you have seen the film, you know they milk one joke multiple times. It’s not all that clever humor either. I think the only times I got laughs out of the film was because of the execution of the line read from the actors. Sometimes, a good comedic actor can make a bad joke work. Another huge problem is that the film is painfully generic. If you have seen any, and I do mean any environmental films, then you know how it’s all going to go down. I know not every film needs to be a “masterpiece” or on the level of Pixar, but if you are going to do something we have seen before, you had better execute it well, or get really creative. Sadly, the story is painfully simple with humans being evil, and the animals having to save the day. Heck, they heavily advertise Jackie Chan’s character for being in the movie, but he’s in it for pretty much 20 minutes total. Due to the lackluster writing, I didn’t find myself really caring about the emotional moments with all of the characters. Some interactions were cute, but when they tried to make you feel for the characters, it felt out of place.

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It’s an infuriating sit. You can tell the team behind the sequel tried harder, got the animation to work, improved the characters, and the story. However, they didn’t go full tilt on improving everything else. It’s not super funny, I didn’t care about the other characters, and in the end, I was perfectly fine with the film underperforming. The original back in 2014 got lucky because it was a family-animated film in January, and the studio thought they could get another financial hit with a sequel. For some reason or another, the movie-going audience said “we didn’t want this”, and made sure no one saw it. It’s an overall harmless film, but if you were going to get an animated film of this year to rent or purchase, I would pick up In This Corner of the World. It’s cheaper than buying The Nut Job 2, and it’s 100% better. If you do decide to watch it, eh, I hope you get some enjoyment out of seeing it. Next time, we are going to look at what is considered one of DC’s biggest disappointments in animation with Batman & Harley Quinn. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

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Should We Worry About The New Academy Award Rule for Animation? (Probably Not)

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Warning: This entire article is obviously subjective, and my solutions are not the end-all-be-all solution to the problem.

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Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures put down a new rule for the Best Animated Feature voting, where instead of just the individuals of that branch of the Academy voting, everyone else from the other branches can throw their vote into the ring as well. Obviously, for many animation viewers and lovers, concerns were raised, since now anything is possible in terms of what animated films can get into those five precious spots that are meant for the best of the best from each year. So, should we worry? Why should we be worried? Is there anything truly worth being concerned about? Well, personally, I would say no. Why would I say that? If you will give me some of your time, I shall explain myself.

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So, let’s start with the concerns. People are afraid that this new ruling will allow films that are much weaker, in terms of critical receptions from both film reviewers and movie-goers, to slip on through due to less educated members of the Academy picking and voting through one of those films. I can also understand this fear, due to the film line-up this year. For those that are not paying attention, 2017 is not looking like a strong year for animation. DreamWorks has the recent financial hit, The Boss Baby, and the upcoming Captain Underpants film, Illumination has Despicable ME 3, Pixar has Cars 3 and Coco, Sony Pictures Animation has the underwhelming Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Emoji Movie, and The Star, and Blue Sky Studios has Ferdinand, to name a few. It’s not the greatest line-up from other years, like 2016 or 2015. The other concern is that it will be much harder for indie animated films from companies like GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Shout! Factory Kids to break through. “They will get thrown under the bus, because the bigger studios will throw around their budgets for marketing their films for award season, over companies that don’t have those massive budgets”. The possible results for the Oscars in 2018 could be set up like Coco, The Boss Baby, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Spark, and The Nut Job 2.

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Listen, I get it. This may open the floodgates for less knowledgeable people and even more marketing and big studio manipulation into an already flawed system. It could very well turn into a quantity-over-quality set of nominees. I perfectly understand the fear and cynicism. However, should we actually worry? Let’s look at the last couple of years of the Best Animated Features nominees. 2010 had Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon, and The Illusionist. 2013 had Frozen, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine, The Croods, and Despicable Me 2. 2014 had Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. 2015 had Inside Out, Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. And recently, 2016 had Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle. While some of the films are odd nominees, what do a lot of those nominees have in common? For the most part, they are critically acclaimed films. I highly doubt, as flawed as the Academy system is, they are going to waste their time with movies that are not getting great reviews. It only takes a Google search to see what films have those nice little Rotten Tomato and IMDB scores. While the scoring systems on those sites are definitely another can of worms to deal with that other people on the net have already done, one can look at those scores, or do a little research as to which indie-animated films on the submission list are getting the most buzz around different critic guilds and word of mouth, and watch those. I doubt there is going to be an individual in the Academy that will say “oh yeah, Spark and The Boss Baby truly deserve it over the upcoming The Girl Without Hands and The Breadwinner.” Even with this new rule, I am not convinced that the organization is going to let the weaker nominees through.

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Now, am I saying we should just sit back, open up a bag of sweet maui onion potato chips, and not worry? Well, I would say yes for 80% of what I have said. If we want smaller indie-animated films to keep on getting nominated from companies like GKids, we are going to have to make an effort to support these films. Sure, you could go to five different viewings of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but you know Marvel and Disney won’t need help to make that film a hit. Instead, if possible, go and find a theater playing some of the smaller releases, like My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea. Why not support something like The Breadwinner or The Girl Without Hands instead of wasting your time with a highly regarded bad movie for a bad movie night? If we want to make sure they don’t get swept under the carpet, then we need to start either supporting these smaller releases in theaters, and If you like them, spread the word on social media, or purchase the DVD or rent the film, and spread the word. You can’t complain about the smaller/more original releases when you don’t go out and support them. However, those distributors need to start expanding into more than just specific theaters that show off arthouse/indie films. I get that these things cost money, but sometimes, you have to bite that bullet, and make that investment.

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Listen, I’m not saying what I suggest is going to be correct. As usual, this is a subjective opinion saying that I wouldn’t be too concerned, but still support the smaller releases. I understand the concern, but I don’t think it is as cataclysmic as many people say it is. If the Academy was selecting films like Norm of the North or Strange Magic for Best Animated Feature in previous years, or Gods of Egypt as Best Film, I would be more worried. For the most part, good taste and popular public opinion are going to win over corporate greed and cynicism. Still, if you think you need to put up the good fight and support the smaller releases, then do so. Personally, the only big animated films that are coming out in 2017 that have a chance at making the shortlist are Coco, The LEGO Batman Movie, and possibly The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and Ferdinand, but that last film mentioned is a risk since it’s from Blue Sky Studios. I’m sure GKids has a few spots pinned down for some of their films coming out like The Breadwinner and The Girl without Hands. Who knows, maybe Sony Pictures Classics and Shout! Factory Kids will have something up their sleeve this year. Keep enjoying animation big and small, but only you can make smaller films successful.