With the voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Maya Rudolph. Written by Lorne Cameron, Peter Lepeniotis. Directed by Peter Lepeniotis. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor. 86 minutes.
There’s often some minor animated film that gets dumped in January under the theory that little kids need some option at the movies among the action and horror films released among the Oscar bait. This year it’s THE NUT JOB.
Let’s start with whether or not kids will like it. This is pitched to the pre-tween set and they should enjoy it. It’s got talking animals, stupid adults, and several jokes about flatulence. What’s not to like? What will they take away from it? Mostly they will remember the good lessons about cooperation, loyalty, and friendship. It’s the adults forced to endure this who will notice what a strange film it really is.
Surly (voice of Will Arnett), is a loner squirrel who has no interest in helping the other denizens of the local park store up nuts for the winter. Instead he and his rat sidekick Buddy are planning to just look out for themselves. This doesn’t sit well with Raccoon (Liam Neeson), the leader of the animals, who is seeing that collections are falling woefully short.
Meanwhile, a group of criminals are using a nut shop across from the park–and the local bank–to plan a big heist. Through various plot twists, Surly is planning to rob the nut store as the thieves are planning to rob the bank. Surly is forced to join forces with Andie (Katherine Heigl), a noble squirrel who doesn’t like Surly but insists that he be treated fairly, and Grayson (Brendan Fraser), a squirrel hero who is more than a bit addled.
If you’re a precocious 7-year-old, stop reading because this review is about to give the movie away. Parents: the movie is about two parallel plans to steal, with the bank robbers obviously seen as bad guys but the animal seen as doing what they need to do to survive. You need to decide if your children are either sophisticated enough to understand the difference or too innocent to see the similarity.
Then there’s what the film has to say about leadership. Both the gang boss and Raccoon turn out to be corrupt, betraying their followers for their own benefit, and treating those who are supporting them with contempt. Now jaded and cynical adults may not have a problem with that, but is that really a message for your grade-schooler? If we’re teaching them that all authority figures are selfish liars, isn’t it only a matter of time before they start questioning your authority?
This US/Canada/South Korea seems to be caught in a bit of time warp. The gangsters appear to be out of a mid-20th century heist movie like “White Heat” or “The Asphalt Jungle.” The movie also has an involved closing credit sequence feature an animated version of Korean rapper Psy doing his 2012 pop hit “Gangnam Style.” Perhaps they couldn’t clear the rights to the “Macarena?”
Much of this, though, will going flying over the heads of younger viewers, and will occur only to bored parents as they keep checking their watches wondering how an 86-minute movie can seem so long. “The Nut Job” is simply time-filler, not much better or worse than what the kids are watching on TV, although the animation is a lot better. So if you have to bring the young ones to see it, here’s the crucial bit of advice: don’t waste the money on 3D. Then at least you won’t feel like someone took your nuts.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.