By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You get the impression, watching The Nut Job, that a different group of animal animators, invisible actors, and steady storytellers might have turned this animated adventure into something memorable.
This group didn’t.
With squirrels all over the place, talk about acorn-y script: this shrill kidflick is nowhere near as cute as it thinks it is.
The Nut Job is set in the 1950s in the fictional town of Oakton, where a street-smart and self-serving purple squirrel named Surly, voiced by Will Arnett, is banished from the city’s Liberty Park by Raccoon the raccoon, the creature in charge, voiced by Liam Neeson, after a botched vendor heist intended to feed the park animals.
So hungry Surly and his equally famished and mute rat buddy Buddy, with winter weather approaching and the survival of the park community at stake, plan a heist at Maury’s Nut Store, where there’s enough food stored.
Elsewhere on the critter front, Brendan Fraser and Katherine Heigl also give voice to squirrels, his to a vain wannabe superhero, hers to a resourceful and principled activist, while Maya Rudolph registers comically as a wacky pug named Precious.
The director, Peter Lepeniotis, works from a strained, choppy, uninspired script self-consciously co-written with Lorne Cameron for a very young and undemanding audience. It’s based on the director’s 2005 animated short, Surly Squirrel.
Let’s say, as politely as possible, that some films are designated as shorts for a reason, and that as a feature film, The Nut Job is stretched well beyond its breaking point, with lots and lots of filler, registering more like a time-killing television cartoon than animation carefully constructed for the cinema screen.
When the screenplay resorts to human bank robbers breaking into the vault next door in a parallel heist, you realize that the screenwriters have more or less given up on the premise.
Even the voice work is nothing special, with the performers bringing little to the party other than declared exposition.
As for the visual element, the film looks fine and viewers really do not need the 3-D enhancement, which is pretty much an afterthought anyway.
So we’ll squirrel away 2 stars out of 4. The Nut Job may not quite be a botch job or a hatchet job, but even the kids won’t go nuts for it.