Maybe it’s because I went into The Nut Job with high hopes and low expectations, but for me, the squirrely 3D animated comedy did a pretty good job of expanding Peter Lepeniotis’ hilarious short, Surly Squirrel into a feature-length film.
The problem with expanding a ten-minute short into an eighty-six minute movie is that you need more than the four characters from the short – and they’ve got to talk. So, what was a slapstick short about a squirrel and a rat foiling a robbery by two hoods to get a piece of pizza, turns into a more complex tale of a grouchy squirrel (aptly) named Surly (Will Arnett) who gets banished from The Park for inadvertently destroying the tree in which The Pack’s supply of food for the winter was stored.
Surly and his mute buddy, a scrawny rat named Buddy, stumble onto a nut stand being manned by a couple of punks and draw attention to it, forcing one set of plans to rob a bank to change its base of operations – to the nut shop, which is next to the bank. Surly decides he and Buddy will break into the store and steal all the nuts for themselves and nuts to The Pack!
Back in the park, The Pack’s leader, Raccoon (Liam Neeson) sends egocentric pack hero Grayson (Brendan Fraser), think Patrick Warburton-lite, and plucky Andie (Katherine Heigl) to find food. Andie is smart and careful, but Grayson must have absorbed one or two too many knocks to the head – he’s a bit on the not-all-there side.
Meanwhile, in the nut shop, King (Stephen Lang) and his men – Fingers (James Rankin), Jimmy (Gabriel Iglesias) and Lucky (Scott Yaphe) – are tunnelling under the bank. The plan is take the money and leave bags of nuts behind so the vault looks full – thereby buying time to escape. They have a guard dog, Precious (Maya Rudolph) and a link between Lucky and Precious is quickly established that will pay off.
Director Lepeniotis infuses The Nut Job with the kind of energy Tex Avery gave Warner Brothers cartoons – though not necessarily his genius. The most successful gags are highly visual. It’s worth noting that audience in the screening I attended was very engaged. In fact, a friend’s young grandnephew was riveted to the screen – and he has a very short attention span. But he was only one of many in a full theater.
Sure, there are too many nuts jokes, but hey! We are talking about squirrels here. The important characters – Surly, Andie, Grayson, Precious – are well done (Heigl hasn’t been this good since Knocked Up…). The visuals are better than I expected – not Pixar/Sony Animation/Disney level, but mostly smooth and colorful. Although the 3D is blurry during early establishing shots (mostly fairly quick cuts), it’s very good-to-impressive once the story settles in.
The closing credits are also fun. PSY might be so last year (or whatever) but Gangnam Style is still a crowd pleaser and plays under some cool visual gags leading into a curtain call – so it’s worth staying through most of the credits.
On the Big Drink Scale, I barely quaffed half my big drink. That speaks for itself.
Final Grade: A-