Judge Patrick Naugle is off his nut.
No nuts, no glory.
Surly (Will Arnett, Arrested Development) is a city squirrel with a plan: stockpile as many nuts as he can for the upcoming winter. Surly is a lone wolf, caring little for the needs and wants of the other animals living in his urban park. When Surly accidentally sets the animal's tree stocked with winter food on fire, he's banished by the group's wise but cantankerous leader, Raccoon (Liam Neeson, Taken). Not one to be slowed down, Surly hatches a new plan: break into a nut store, filled with thousands of peanuts and pistachios, and steal them for the many winters to come. When Surly discovers that the nut shop is owned by some nasty criminals (led by Avatar's Stephen Lang), he devises a plan to stop the robbers, grab the nuts, and fill his belly with the enough crunchy goodness to feed a king for three lifetimes!
Pixar has truly spoiled movie lovers who cherish animated fare. The Disney owned company has accomplished what few studios have achieved: raising children's entertainment into a true art form. Pixar has taken normal everyday items and animals—fish, dolls, insects—and turned them into complex stories with characters audiences genuinely care about. With the exception of only a few misfires (including the jumbled mess that is Cars 2), Pixar's batting average has been impressive to say the least. This means rival animation studios have had to work twice has hard to make an impression, often to diminishing success.
If there's any one genre that's been overplayed to death, it's the 'talking animal' genre. I'd venture to guess that the bulk of animated films are based on wildlife that can talk, sing, and act just like their human counterparts. For some odd reason animators like to take man's best friend or giant jungle cats, strip them of their essence, and turn them into clichéd characters with stock human personalities. Universal's The Nut Job is another in a long line of talking animal movies, this time focusing on a band of inner city rodents (squirrels, rats, moles, and raccoons) who are making their plans for impending winter. It should come as no surprise this ends up just another in a long line of talking animal movies. What is a surprise is how vapid, limp, and all around bad The Nut Job ends up being.
The problems with The Nut Job are many. The largest fault lies in Surly, a generally unlikable lead character whose 'every squirrel for themself' attitude ends up alienating viewers. Will Arnett is a comedic actor who can shine in the right kind of material, but family fare isn't really it. Arnett's gravely attitude is too snide and smug for the lead of a family adventure, which means the audience doesn't really have anyone to root for (until the end, which comes too little, too late). The rest of the cast gives it their all, but The Nut Job is one of those rare films that gets the voice cast wrong more often than it gets it right. The actors who come off with the best performances include Maya Rudolph's pugnacious pug, Stephen Lang as a grumpy mob boss, and, surprisingly, puppet comedian Jeff Dunham as a blind-as-a-bat mole. While Liam Neeson (as a raccoon leader), Brendan Fraser (as a heroic dimwitted squirrel), and Katherine Heigl (as a resourceful squirrel) aren't terrible, each actor feels slightly miscast in their roles. Almost everyone appears to be phoning in their performance.
More issues abound, including The Nut Job's screenplay, which takes an already rather flimsy plot and practically stretches it to the breaking point. Although I'm speaking clearly from an adult point-of-view, it's hard to see how kids could get very engaged in a basic—pardon the pun—"nuts and bolts" heist theme. Whenever the film switches over to the human mobsters, the entire movie seems to slow to an absolute crawl. Director Peter Lepeniotis (working as a first time feature director) gives the film an almost straight-to-DVD feel with flat visuals and uninteresting subplots involving a romance between two of the main lead squirrels (yawn). It feels like the filmmakers did everything in their power to make The Nut Job as pedestrian as possible.
I am sure there are kids out there that will eat up The Nut Job. On the plus side, the film is filled with bright colors and lots of movement. On the negative side, well…you already know the bad. What you don't know is that Psy's overplayed "Gangnam Style" closes out the movie with an animated version of the overseas singer, just to add salt to the wound. You've been warned.
The Nut Job (Blu-ray) is presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen. If nothing else, rest assured this Universal title looks excellent. The colors are extraordinarily bright and clear, making the image nearly pop of screen. On par with a lot of recent CGI animated films, The Nut Job is near perfect reference quality. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is an exceptional mix with aggressive surround sounds (especially near the end) and crystal clear effects, dialogue, and music. Overall I can't find much fault at all in the video or audio portion of this disc. Also included are English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include a couple of animated shorts ("Surly Squirrel", "Nuts & Robbers"), around five minutes of deleted scenes, a few storyboards, a short EPK featurette ("The Great Nut Heist"), and the end title sequence featuring overseas musical sensation Psy.
If I were to sum up The Nut Job in two words, they would be "unabashedly mediocre." It's a shrine to banal kiddie fare, with a fairly high budget and A-list voice talent. I'm afraid even your kids may find this one fairly limp.
A few cashews short of a good movie.
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