For an animated film aimed at an audience who mostly laugh at scenarios that are silly and not necessarily funny, per se, “The Nut Job” is actually kind of… well… funny.
It reminded me a great deal of those old school crime capers from the 1930s and 40s. Not that I watch a lot of old school crime capers from the 30s and 40s, but you catch my drift. It had a fuzzy, nostalgic, sepia-toned feel to it and it also seemed as if the screenwriters (Peter Lepeniotis and Lorne Cameron) wrote a film that was supposed to feature live actors, but was transformed into a cartoon at some point during pre-production. Now, I have no proof that this actually, in fact, happened, but the storyline just gives off that type of vibe.
“The Nut Job” takes place in that bygone era of which I mentioned earlier on and follows a group of animals (I’m sorry, “talking” animals) who harmoniously dwell in a community inside Liberty Park, which lies right in the middle of a big, bustling and fictional Oakton City.
The animals are directed by their steadfast, politically-charged leader Raccoon, who is (guess what!) a
raccoon. The prim and proper Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson, who seems like he’s having fun) keeps the park animals in check by providing a sense of stability, but it turns out that he runs things in a communist fashion. So, basically, “What’s good for one animal is good for every animal,” is his unspoken motto.
The way that Raccoon keeps everything running smoothly is by withholding food and personal items from the animals and redistributing them at the most opportune times. This, of course, makes him look like a solid leader, but it’s a very manipulative system. See, I told you this film has some grown-up ideas in it.
Raccoon’s right-hand man is named Mole (again… one guess), who also ends up living up to his name as Raccoon uses him to spy from time to time to stay on top of things. Mole (voiced by Jeff Dunham; that puppet guy from “Dinner For Schmucks”), who’s actually one of the more entertaining characters in the film, as his “I can’t see, I’m a mole” routine never really gets old, accompanies a group of animals that try to knock over a nut store (which is, literally, a store that sells nuts) in order to replenish their dwindling food supply.
The animals are led by an unlikely hero named Surly, who’s a squirrel with an attitude that’s… ummhh… surly. See, Surly (played with an uninspired droll, deadpan delivery by miscast “star” Will Arnett) is a selfish loner that doesn’t get along with any of the other animals. This includes Raccoon, who REALLY has it out for him, probably because he’s the only one that questions his authority. This behavioral pattern leads to Surly’s banishment from the group AND the park. So, Surly is forced to fend for himself and decides to sneak into the dangerous and scary city environment in order find his own, personal food supply that he DOESN’T have to share with other creatures.
However, like I said before, the rest of the group is also in need of sustenance, so they hightail it (get it?
“hightail”) into the city and follow Surly, which is unbeknownst to him. Surly is none too pleased with the idea of working with anybody — that is, except for his subservient, mute rat friend that follows Surly like a loyal constituent. This especially goes for a specific fellow-squirrel duo: heroic and puffy-chested blowhard Grayson (voiced by Brendan Fraser — seriously, I didn’t know how someone could overact so badly in a CARTOON) and brave and noble Andie (Katherine Heigl). These two are completely opposite from Surly. They’re daring, selfless and morally incorruptible… and Surly hates them for it.
So, Grayson, Andie and a group including Raccoon’s mole… Mole leave the park to tail Surly (I did it again) in an attempt to locate some food and bring it back to the community. Well, like I said before, they find that nut store, which is being run as a front in order for a group of enterprising hooligans to rob a bank, while using a system of underground tunnels to do so. Basically, what I’m sayin’ is, the park animals aren’t the only ones pulling off a heist.
This makes for an interesting premise, in which two stories (one in the animal world, one in the human world) manage to overlap and play off of one another. The bungling crooks, led by the ruthless King (Stephen Lang), are always botching things up and shooting themselves in the foot (well, not literally… c’mon, it’s a kids flick). It kind of reminds me of “The Ladykillers (Widescreen Edition)“ and/or “Small Time Crooks,” but with significantly less star power behind it and… you know… with a cartoonish aspect to
As the animals are devising a way to steal the gigantic supply of peanuts and figuring out a way to haul it back to Liberty Park, the humans are doing the same thing, but it’s not peanuts they’re after — it’s money. It makes for an appealing juxtaposition, with every action that one group takes seemingly affecting every action the other HAS TO take. I know it sounds unnecessarily complicated for a kid’s film, but it works. And the best part is: the kids won’t even know it’s happening.
That’s due to all the Looney Tunes style of slapstick-y physical humor that fills up the screen from start to finish. Leading the charge is a talking pug named Precious, that the humans brought to store to take care of their rodent problem, which of course consists of Surly and company. Precious (voiced with infectious zeal by Maya Rudolph) starts out as the primary nemesis to Surly and his plans of nut thievery, but after a while, the real bad guy (I’ll give you a hint — “communist”) rears his furry little head and Precious becomes an important ally to the animals’ cause.
Of course, the film has its share of predictability as well. At least, with the animal storyline. It’s pretty
obvious that Surly and Andie will eventually get along, although they originally hate each other at first, but it’s not the idea of “getting along” that cartoon watchers are familiar with. This (possibly) leads me to one of the more diverse aspects of the narrative.
As a fellow filmgoer pointed out to me, there are some bold choices that MIGHT have been made. For example: there are no romantic undertones between Surly and Andie, which turns out to be not-so predictable. In fact, her theory, as to whom the focus of the romance was on, was an eye-opener to me, as I TOTALLY didn’t see the film in that light. That being said, there is still merit to her theory now that I’ve had a chance to think about.
I’m not going to divulge this romantic theory, but I will say this: If the filmmakers did take this road purposefully, then more power to them, because it would be a bold statement. Especially, because it was made in a children’s animated film. Gosh, wouldn’t it be something if that were the case. I’ll bet you’re intrigued now? Well then, go see the movie and look for the road less travelled and you’ll figure it out.
The plot lines between the humans and the animals finally converge at the end simultaneously. This might be a tad confusing to some younger children, as there’s quite a bit of action happening on the screen during the last fifteen minutes or so, at any given time. And since both the humans AND the animals can talk out loud to one another (no, not TO each other, mind you), some kids might not understand as to who can actually hear who, which might cause the kid to lose interest and you KNOW what THAT means when THAT happens.
I also could have done without all the jokes and puns revolving around the word “nut.” There are SOOOO many of them. It seems as if a character is making a “nutty” comment (see, now I’m doing it)
every five minutes, which leads to some groan-inducing gags. I’m just saying, it seems like the screenwriters got juuuust a tad lazy after a while.
Also, do yourself a favor, stay tuned during the credits (well, that is if you took some kids to see it) for a tribute to that “Gangnam Style” song by PSY, as all of the cartoonish character models (animals and humans) are all programmed to mimic all those horse-jockeying dance moves by the best-selling, Korean star du jour. Even PSY’s likeness joins in on the fun. Ummmhhh… this film may have jumped on the bandwagon a few months too late, but this segment still has its charms.
“The Nut Job,” which is based on an animated short film from 2005 by director/ co-writer Lepeniotis called “Surly Squirrel,” will take filmgoers back to a bygone era where crooks called police officers “coppers” and said things like, “You’ll neva take me alive, COPPER!!,” which is not such a bad trip at all. It was a time when a movie’s storyline wasn’t always more important than the growth of the characters onscreen, which is a rare occurrence in this day and age… animated film or not.
In a “nutshell,” you won’t go “nuts” for “The Nut Job,” but it’s entertaining and original enough that you won’t mind forking out the “cash(ew)” for it either.