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Film review: 'The Nut Job'

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nutjob

If at first glance “The Nut Job” looks like cut-rate animation aimed squarely at little kiddies, that’s because it is.

This Canadian/Korean production with voices provided by recognizable B-list stars would be called an exercise in intentional mediocrity – except it’s not good enough to be deemed run-of-the-mill.

It aims low, and hits even lower.

The set-up is decently clever: Surly Squirrel is the roguish outcast of Liberty Park, a green space in an unnamed town center in 1950s America. With winter coming on and food supplies low, he gets himself banished for his antics. He sets about on a mission to pilfer a horde of nuts from a local shop, unaware that the ersatz proprietors are planning their own heist job on the bank next door.

It’s based on a short film made by Peter Lepeniotis, who directed and co-wrote this feature film effort with Lorne Cameron.

The movie is a collection of boingy action, a few teary moments and moral-of-the-story patronizing, plus some fart jokes, a smidge of romance and a heaping helping of cute critters.

The animation looks really cutting-edge … if this were 1997. Everything has a slightly digitized look, like a photo blown up past its pixel limit, and the action isn’t very smooth, tending to seem jumpy. The character designs aren’t very detailed, though the fur on the animals isn’t bad.

The voice acting is generally far richer than the look of the film, led by Will Arnett as Surly. With his smooth-yet-raspy baritone, he gives the squirrel a scoundrel’s twinkle.

Katherine Heigl does Andie, a stalwart fellow squirrel who represents the do-gooder animals of the park, led by the benevolent-ish Raccoon (Liam Neeson). Brendan Fraser provides the voice of Grayson, who is adored as the park’s official hero figure, a title he does little to earn.

For some reason never explained, some of the creatures have names while others are just called what they are, like Raccoon and Mole (Jeff Dunham), his comically near-sighted henchman.

The humans’ chief is King (Stephen Lang), a gang leader who just got out of the slammer and wants to land one more big job before retirement. He and his crew are tunneling into the bank while Surly and Andie form a temporary alliance to tunnel their way into the nut shop.

Rounding out the cast is Maya Rudolph as Precious, the robbers’ alleged guard dog, despite being a tiny pug. After a bit of convincing, she soon throws in with Surly & Co.

The storytelling is pitched straight at the kindergarten-and-down crowd, with a few quick asides thrown in to keep their parents awake.

Tune your television to the Disney Junior or Nickelodeon channels on any given evening, and you’re apt to find animated fare that’s more polished and entertaining than what you’ll see in “The Nut Job.” But it’s January, folks, so this is the sort of cheap, disposable stuff that gets tossed into theaters.

THE NUT JOB
Featuring the voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Jeff Dunham, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias. PG: for cartoonish violence. 85 min. Score: 1.5 out of four; 2 out of five; D+ out of A-E.
Last modified: January 16, 2014
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