The Nut Job is a 3D animated feature film derived from director and co-writer Peter Lepeniotis’ 2005 animated short film, Surly Squirrel. The lead character, Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), is a grumpy, grouchy varmint who only thinks of himself. When he accidentally sets fire to his community’s stockpile of nuts, he is banished into the city by park leader Raccoon (Liam Neeson).
Surly is forced to survive in this big city and happens upon the pot of gold at the end of his nut-loving rainbow when he finds a nut shop that’s chock full of every imaginable variety. Problems arise when Surly and his band of animal cohorts must execute their scheme alongside a gang of human robbers who need the nut shop to pull off a heist of their own.
Surly the Selfish Squirrel
Not all main characters are heroes; especially in crime flicks. In this movie, Surly the squirrel is just that: surly. He’s grumpy and brash and really only cares about himself. He doesn’t want to help his fellow park residents by gathering food for the winter, and, he accidentally destroys what they do manage to collect.
He’s quickly banished by Raccoon, the park leader. So, Surly and his sidekick, a rat named Buddy, set out to fend for themselves. Surly and Buddy could be reminiscent of two more lovable animated characters, Ice Age’s Scrat and Ratatouille’s Remy. Only, Scrat’s love of acorns was endearing, not self-indulging, and Remy was resourceful, not weakly aligned to the wrong leader.
Surly and Buddy soon join forces with two more rodents, Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser) to pull off the ultimate haul, by raiding a delectable supply of cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts and more from Maury’s nut shop.
Two parallel heists ensue, as human robbers also use the nut shop to tunnel themselves to a bank to score their own ill-gotten fortune.
We wait for Surly’s transformation into a nicer squirrel who realizes cheating others gets you nowhere and that you should work together for the common good. And we wait. And we wait. In the end, a mostly insufferable Surly only feels slightly more bearable.
Nut Puns, Noir and Slapstick
Adults will probably roll their eyes at the overabundance of nut puns streaming throughout the film. Things like, “Sorry, I went a little nuts,” and “Let’s not get too nuts about this.” Kids will probably laugh at these references, though, along with repeated flatulence jokes.
The movie clearly has a noir feel. But, it’s hard to pin down exactly what decade it’s set in. Most likely the 40s or 50s. But then why, pray tell, does an animated PSY of “Gangnam Style” glory make a cameo appearance?
Those who grew up in the days of Tom and Jerry and Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny, will notice similar animated antics. Only, Nut Job’s delivery of these “slapstick” gags seems ultimately violent. There are explosions and electrocutions. Younger children may also be frightened when some animals are believed to have drowned (they turn out to be okay). And, verbal insults like “stupid” and “moron” are sprinkled throughout the dialogue.
There is also gunplay that thankfully doesn’t result in injury or death. Use of gunplay, overall, seems unnecessary in a family film produced and released in today’s age of tragic school shootings.
The overall message of working together for the common good ultimately resounds. However, the film isn’t nearly as feel-good as scores of its animated predecessors. The many double-crosses most likely go over younger children’s heads. While kids will undoubtedly laugh at some of the misguided silliness and the animation itself is nice from an artistic standpoint, the movie’s overall premise carried by such an unlikable lead character renders The Nut Job a movie families will ultimately not be wildly nuts about.
MPAA Rating is PG for “mild action and rude humor.” Some material may not be suitable for children.