"}

The Nut Job

A twisted tale of a subpar squirrel

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Computer-animated critters have been coveting nuts since at least the Ice Age, which means squirrely Surly, star of The Nut Job, descends from a proud if exasperated tradition of animated acorn stealers. By way of novelty, this sharp-looking but otherwise uninspired Canadian-Korean venture gives its resident rodent a chance to steal a lifetime supply from a gang of crooks who’ve opened a nut shop adjacent to the bank they plan to rob. The critters look cute, but behave less so, while the competing-heists concept never quite takes off.

Credit Disney vet Ken Duncan and the artists at Canadian outfit ToonBox Entertainment with designing what is quite possibly the cutest pack of scavengers to hit the screen since Don Bluth (An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH) put down his pencil. Alas, design is but a part of an animated character’s appeal, the rest of which takes shape through casting and the screenplay itself, and in those two respects, The Nut Job comes up short compared with a film like Ratatouille, which, despite its less-than-adorable rodents, won audiences over through appealing voice work and writing.

Here, you have a grating actor, Will Arnett, playing a character—first seen in director Peter Lepeniotis’ short film Surly Squirrel—who’s as abrasive as his name would suggest: an aggressively selfish animal with no interest in helping the rest of Liberty Park’s animal inhabitants replace the winter stockpile he accidentally set aflame. (The film’s most spectacular 3D shot involves watching Raccoon’s closely guarded oak tree burst into flames, sending virtual corn kernels popping in viewers’ faces.)

Of course, selfishness alone isn’t enough to sabotage a cartoon squirrel. That very same quality has motivated Ice Age’s Scrat since the beginning, and yet, replace a well-choreographed “It’s all mine!” pantomime routine with over-the-top Michael Bay-style action sequences, and the charm instantly evaporates. Though charm was in pretty short supply already, as the script’s inability to resist even the laziest pun starts to make its fart jokes seem clever by comparison.

After destroying the local food supply, Surly is banished by Raccoon (Liam Neeson) and his fellow park-dwellers to a life on the streets of Oakton, a city with an endearing midcentury, all-American look about it. Seen from a squirrel’s point of view, however, it’s full of dangers: huge shuffling feet, mangy rats, falling bricks and so on. Lucky for Surly, he quickly manages to locate Oakton’s nut shop, which we soon discover is little more than a cover operation for a bunch of mafia types’ elaborate bank heist, already in progress.

While the criminals (headed up by the Stephen Lang-voiced King) tunnel into the bank vault next door, Surly and his friends attempt to burrow into the nut shop itself. Trouble is, nothing much stands in their way, apart from an adorable pug named Precious (Maya Rudolph) whom Surly swiftly learns to control via a discarded dog whistle. And so, with the animals’ goal so easily achieved, Lepeniotis is left to fall back on stale twists, such as revealing Raccoon as an Animal Farm-style tyrant who manipulates his herd according to the motto “Animals are controlled by the amount of food they have.”

That would seem to be an almost anti-consumerist lesson tucked away within a film that, if its producers had their way, would inspire toys, tie-ins and sequels galore. Such crass commercialism, coupled with a strange sense of national pride from the South Korean entities that put up most of the money, surely explains how a computer-animated Psy came to hijack the end credits. This “Gangnam Style” music video certainly doesn’t fit with the almost Marxian lesson in working together for the Common Good that the movie seems to be peddling otherwise. Or maybe it has something to do with Psy’s recent role as a pistachio pitchman—as if this pic weren’t nutty enough already.

Ticket Cascadia
More ...
Events
Today
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

Garden Dedication

3:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Blues, Brews & BBQ

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Vintner Dinner

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Riverwalk Park

Move to Amend

6:00pm|Mount Vernon

Fiction Writing Group

6:00pm|Village Books,

Elizabeth Park Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books
Tomorrow
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

What's Next?

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Summer Concert Series Finale

6:00pm|Seafarers Park

Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Final Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Wine and Music

7:00pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books Andrew Subin
Saturday
5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Sedro Car Show

9:00am|United General Fitness Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Island Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Wondermud

10:00am|Bellingham BMX

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Improv for Kids

10:30am|Improv Playworks

Fidalgo Bay Day

11:00am|Fidalgo Bay Resort

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Holly Street History Tour

1:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

This Old House

2:00pm|Point Roberts Community Center

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Drinking for Dogs

4:00pm|Green Frog Acoustic Tavern

Downtown Throwdown

4:00pm|Public Market

Scary Monster & the Super Creeps

5:00pm|Heart of Anacortes

Toys for Tots Benefit Concert

5:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Moonlight in Margaritaville

5:30pm|Maple Hall

An Evening with Ann Morris

7:30pm| Lummi Island Library

Circus on the Water

8:00pm|Lookout Arts Quarry and Boundary Bay Brewery

see our complete calendar »

5 Point Film Festival Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Northwood Steak and Crab Artifacts Wine Bar