Whenever an animated film is released early in the year, usually it’s not a good sign at all. Usually when an animated film is released in the first two months of the year, it’s for two reasons. One, it’s a lesser known property, like Secret World of Arrietty, that would get crushed if it had any animated film to really compete with. The other is that the film is just a cash grab, looking to cash in on the lack of competition with a generic film. Some primary examples of this are Happily N’Ever After, Doogal, and last year’s Escape from Planet Earth.
Sometimes, though, there can be some pleasant surprises. The animated film Hoodwinked looked like it was cashing in on the popularity of the twist on fairy tales, with cheap animation and a January release. Surprisingly, it featured some clever twists and a fair share of good laughs. Then there is the Curious George adaptation, which was a simplistic but warm and amiable flick. This gave me hope for The Nut Job, but it seems as if this is another shameless cash grab.
A squirrel named Surly is kicked out of his park community, and left to survive in the city. That is until he finds Maury’s Nut Store, which leads him to planning a heist to get back into the community.
The Nut Job, like most animated films, moves quite well. Clocking in at 86 minutes, The Nut Job goes at a sprinting pace, moving along very fast, which is understandable for a family film. There was also never really a moment where I was really bored in my seat, which is always a positive.
Like most animated films, Nut Job features a big cast, which does a respectable job in the film. Will Arnett has done a lot of animated films for a reason, as his voice really lends well to animation. Arnett does a solid job here, with his voice really benefiting the film. Liam Neeson plays a raccoon here, and is by far the highlight of the film itself. Neeson’s dead-pan voice brings some laughs to material that does not really feature a lot of laughs.
The rest of the cast did a capable job as well. Quite a few stars like Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, and Jeff Dunham do not do anything really outside of their wheelhouse, but each do a solid job with their characters. Lang especially has a voice that lends itself well to animation, and it should be interesting to see if he does more animated films in the future.
For an animated film, the movie actually looks quite ugly. Compared to other low budget animated films like Planes and Escape From Planet Earth, this is by far the ugliest of the bunch. The film lacks any sort of visual punch to it, making everything just look extremely flat. Even the addition of 3D does not give the film a better look, instead making it actually look a lot worse. This is the kind of animation you’d see in a film straight to DVD.
There are a severe lack of laughs here. Unlike some family films, there really is nothing for older audiences to really laugh to, making its only real jokes for kids. With the film’s fast pace, jokes are flying by the minute, and almost all of them fall completely flat. Not even the kids in the theater were laughing, which makes me think this film fails for both audiences when it comes to the humor in the film.
An issue that surprisingly a great deal of animated films suffer from occurs here: the lead character is actually quite unlikable. While for most movies, an unlikable character is fine, this movie wants its audience to support these character through his mission in the movie. Throughout the film, Arnett’s Surly is just a very obnoxious character, which made me really not like him. This to me is more of a problem of the script than Arnett.
While the film has a fast pace, it seems as if there is not enough plot for the film’s running time. Even at 86 minutes, the film feels like it’s stretching for the finish line quite often. Perhaps if the film had a screenplay with some dimension, there could have been more focus on important qualities like character and how this group interacts. There is none of that in this film, which leads to The Nut Job’s fatal flaw.
The Nut Job is just as lazy as it gets. There is no idea, character, or even scene that feels like it’s either new or original. Everything here is just generic as it gets; even some of the characters look very similar to other characters in animated films. It just seems like almost no one involved here was in this movie for the right reasons, as this is about as shameless as you can get for a cash grab.
To me, The Nut Job is the epitome of what is wrong with animation these days. After a golden age of the genre, with classics like Ratatouille, Up, and Kung Fu Panda, the genre has reverted back to being more about making money than good storytelling. Aside from a few exceptions, most animated movies these days just do not really try very hard, and it’s a shame since the genre can produce some great films.
The Nut Job wont end up on anyone’s worst-of list, but might just be one of the year’s most forgettable flicks. There is absolutely minimum effort here, which creates a largely dull animated affair.
Take a Drink: for each cliche in the film
Do a Shot: for Liam Neeson, at least he is trying
Take a Drink: whenever the movie looks extremely cheap
Do a Shot: during the Gangam Style dance at the end, god damn I thought we were done with this song!