There’s not going to be a lot to pick from at the Oscars this time around when it comes to the animated feature category. 2013 wasn’t exactly a banner year for animation. I did like “Frozen” but still feel that “The Wind Rises” was over-praised, and nothing else even interested me.
Alas, 2014 isn’t exactly getting off to a strong start. Made on the cheap in Korea, “The Nut Job” is actually quite a good-looking film, filled with pleasing colors and nicely detailed elements such as realistic hair and water, and there’s plenty of breakneck action going on to keep very young kids occupied.
But it falls short everywhere else. From the get-go, the suggestion that the film’s two central stories, about two simultaneous heists, would fit together into one neat whole doesn’t work. You’ve got your animals in the park, worried that, with fall coming on, there won’t be enough food to go around. As starvation is a possibility, a plan is put in action to steal a bunch of peanuts from a local nut shop. Then you’ve got the one about the owners of that “soon-to-open” nut shop, who are actually a bunch of crooks with a plan to break into a bank vault.
No matter how many times – the number is high – the two groups intersect and kind of interact, nothing makes them mesh, in mood or substance. This is a case of two completely different stories being passed off as one.
Yet that could still work in this relatively (and mercifully) short film, if only the characters were interesting and the acting was good.
Sorry, don’t get your hopes up. Most of the characters are just plain unappealing. And not one of these talented actors rises to the occasion, including Will Arnett as a self-centered squirrel, Brendan Fraser as an egotistic squirrel, Katherine Heigl as a sweet but tough squirrel, Liam Neeson as a less-than-benevolent raccoon, and Maya Rudolph as a moronic dog. There’s a good chance that these folks actually did phone in their performances.
What’s worse is that the film is loaded with gags that fall flat (though I did laugh once) and some irresponsible violence toward animals (one of them is repeatedly tortured by the sound of a dog whistle, which is supposedly OK, because a human is also tortured by it).
On top of that the film carries a half-baked, misguided message about what appears to be the extremely thin line between selfishness and heroism. Yet even that gets lost in its final minutes, when too many loose story ends are sloppily tied up in a confusing jumble of too many conclusions. I really couldn’t figure out was going on, and neither could the kids in the audience who, by the way, weren’t laughing. That’s never a good sign.
Page 2 of 2 - When this thing finally ends, audiences willing to stay a little longer will be “treated” to a CG version of Psy doing “Gangnam Style” over the end credits. I’m still scratching my head over that stale decision.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
THE NUT JOB
Written by Lorne Cameron and Peter Lepeniotis; directed by Peter Lepeniotis
With voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson