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The Nut Job – Movie Review

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The Nut Job – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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The first entry in 2014’s massive slate of animated features begins the year on a zippy note. At no point does The Nut Job take itself seriously, instead preferring to capture the same tone as a Looney Tunes cartoon, right down to the stereotypical gangsters. It takes a tried-and-true concept of a squirrel chasing after a horde of nuts and throws in as many gags as it can possibly fit into the running time. Director Peter Lepeniotis adapts his similarly fast paced and inventive short Surly Squirrel, capturing the same sense of comedic timing and mayhem for this full-length incarnation. The Nut Job does not aspire to be anything more than a madcap Saturday morning cartoon and in that regard, it succeeds to the point where concession stands should consider selling Honey Nut Cheerios to families who buy a ticket to this.

The opening, involving a wild chase with a nut cart, establishes what the rest of The Nut Job will entail and whether this is likely to be your cup of tea or not. The subtle and lush filmmaking of a Hayao Miyazaki movie is not found anywhere, but that is hardly necessary for a full-length cartoon like this one. The film rarely rests and the screenplay has a joke-per-minute. Despite the occasional flat gag here and there (one of these jokes is a bit of dancing the marketing unfortunately put emphasis on), the movie brings enough chuckles. The concept alone of squirrels planning a heist is humourous enough and Lepeniotis bounces off of the idea as the story only gets more wild from there. Most of the comedy is of the slapstick variety and the animators channel their inner Tom & Jerry fans as the characters are harmed in almost every possible way and those tend to be the funniest bits.

The frequent chase scenes also provide plenty of opportunity for quick gags befitting running from dynamite and speeding cars. The screenplay also manages to avoid pop-culture references, which only continues to show how animated features are starting to move away from that trend more and more. However, if you’re a viewer who is tired of fart jokes, it should be noted that the sound editors slip a couple of them in there. Easily the worst part of The Nut Job is at the very end. Despite closing on a satisfying note, the end credits kill the mood by throwing in a loud, obnoxious fad-of-the-month. I feel sorry for these talented animators who were forced to make their furry characters dance like that.

The story, as basic as it is, is continually moving and involving and the animals that litter the picture are an eccentric and fun bunch. Will Arnett brings enough of a charm and likeability to Surly, who is certainly a flawed hero. Katherine Heigl is a surprisingly perfect casting choice for a squirrel and the writers thankfully don’t turn Andie into merely a love interest even though they are given ample opportunity to do so. Brendan Fraser’s role mainly consists of him shouting wild non-sequitur jokes, but he certainly does a better job here than his forgettable character in last year’s Canadian-made animated feature Escape from Planet Earth. Liam Neeson also provides the right slime to his obvious antagonist of a raccoon, accompanied by the most vicious cardinal I’ve ever laid eyes on. The idea to cross the squirrel’s nut-hunting scheme with a human gang’s plan to rob a bank is quite clever and it’s interesting to see the two storylines intersect. With that said, the human characters are fairly one-dimensional villains and the clichéd gangster subplot does take time away from the much funnier wild animals.

The animation is decent, when considering the relatively small budget and this being the first feature film for Toronto’s Toon Box Entertainment. It certainly has the feel of a small group of local animators putting together their first project and putting all of their resources into it. They are attempting to just make the movements as cartoony as possible, rather than finding new technological breakthroughs and that’s a noble ambition. Nobody is likely to confuse this for Pixar, as the animation is closer to Nickelodeon than Disney. As they produce further films, their rigs will improve and the imagery will look sharper, but it’s solid work that never becomes an eyesore (aside from the aforementioned dancing). The Nut Job does not have the lush environments and complex characters of a Frozen or an Epic, but rather closer to something that will one day be watched in between reruns of SpongeBob and The Fairly OddParents. Its dreams are smaller than the big dogs of animation, but as a movie that just wants to be a funny Sunday matinee romp, it works.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

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