How Bad Is: The Nut Job (2014)?
Rarely have I watched such a mean spirited, cynical, and crass movie. That it’s an animated film marketed to children is heinous. Everyone involved in making The Nut Job should have a restraining order from CCP keeping them away from all children.
In our See It Instead, Neil joked that all three movie recommendations for The Nut Job 2 were traumatizing films that are of dubious value as children’s fare. To which I must posit: all of them are jolly romps through munchikin land compared to the original The Nut Job. Secret of NiMH and Watership Down might contain difficult topics, but both films respect your children as humans capable of thought. They present tough worlds with long odds, but the characters are believable and in most cases heroic.
You will find none of that in The Nut Job. Surly the Squirrel is the worst children’s character since Asshole the Aardvark. And Surly’s supposed to be the hero. And I made Asshole the Aardvark up.
The Nut Job (2014)
Surly the Squirrel (Will Arnett) is a self-centered schemer. Mean to everyone he meets, including his best buddy, Buddy. Surprisingly enough, the park where Surly makes his home is filled by creatures even more loathsome than he: a mayor/religious leader/conman Racoon (Liam Neeson), a sanctimonious conformist squirrel (Katherine Heigl), a brain-dead chauvinist squirrel (Brendan Frasier), and a whole cast of fart jokes waiting to happen.
Racoon is conning all the park animals into storing their winter food in his hollowed out tree. When Surly accidentally blows that tree up (because Conformist and The Chauvinist were trying to muscle in on his food find (Yes, all these animals are horrible)), he is exiled into the big city, where rats and starvation await. Surly and Buddy find a store that sells nothing but nuts, and seek to rob the store blind. Unfortunately Racoon has sent Conformist to do the same thing, and things are even more convoluted as a gang of bank robbers and their dog (Maya Rudolph) are using the store as a front for their next heist. Will this motley crew of miscreant mammals make out in the end?
I couldn’t care in the least.
What Went Wrong?
- The movie is mean spirited. Everyone yells at each other. Everyone hits each other, even the characters who are friends. A trio of groundhog siblings constantly fart on each other. All of the characters are trying to double cross each other. The only geniunely good character is Buddy, who is constantly belittled and talked down to. A giant chunk of the humor is Tom and Jerry style violence, but in Tom and Jerry, we get that the cat and mouse are enemies. Most of these critters are supposed to be friends.
Andie, the conformist squirrel, is supposed to be the voice of reason and decency in this film, but she constantly knuckles under. She almost never stands up for all the values and ideals she pays lip service to. Which leads me to…
This movie is cynical as all hell. Not only are all the characters in this movie mean, they are selfish. There is no empathy in this community. Raccoon is a stand in for: A religious swindler a la Jerry Falwell; A corrupt politician a la Mayor Willam J. Le Petomane; and greedy bankers/trust fund sociopaths. We don’t necessarily feel sorry for the people he’s swindling, however. They are small minded, short sighted, maybe bigoted, and looking to get something for nothing. As such this movie has the faintest hint that it wants to skewer or critique society through animals, but it’s a toothless effort.
- The story is fickle and contrived. The two aspects of the movie above lead to a problem: how do you get to a happy ending when everyone is awful and actively sabotaging themselves? Break character and have narrative miracles, that’s how. Characters constantly “have a change of heart” or act against their character whenever the plot needs it. They then return to form. Their is a feeling that some overly forgiving God is moving these knuckleheads towards a beneficial resolution. Enemies become allies for no good reason, things break one way when they obviously have a higher chance of breaking bad, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t feel earned or flow naturally from the script.
What Went Right?
The CGI is better than average. It took a few minutes for the stylistic choices of the art department to gel with me, but once it did the movie was technically competent. Some of the animals look as ugly (the opening scene Pigeons were hideous) as their souls, but the facial animations are good. Surly has the facial mannerisms of Will Arnett, and Raccoon is unquestionably Liam Neeson. The backgrounds and set pieces are good, making this the second good “Ant’s Eye View” of the human world I’ve seen this month.
- It’s mercifully short. This movie is an hour and a half, and that was just fine by me. The antics get old quick, the plot is nothing special, and I was glad when the credits rolled.
- Um, I didn’t have to pay to watch it? Sorry, I got nothing.
How bad is it?
This movie’s reason for existing is exactly the same as Surly or Racoon’s stated intentions: a cynical grift. That it made 122 million dollars on a 42 million dollar budget should have been taken for the second intervention of that overly forgiving God. That the studio decided to try and steal your money by conning your children a second time with 2017’s The Nut Job 2 is also like Surly and Racoon: naked and shameless avarice. Hopefully in the sequel everyone gets eaten by the Wolf of Wall Street.