Hailing from an unknown animation studio and featuring one of the dumber titles in some time, The Nut Job seemingly has all the makings of an annoying throwaway cartoon. It’s these very perceived shortcomings, therefore, that make the first feature from Toolbox Entertainment and Korean-based Redrover International such an unexpected treat. Peter Lepeniotis’ quick-paced story of banished squirrel Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) and quest to stock up on food for the winter via a nut store heist features Dreamworks-level animation, appealing character design, and memorable voice work. More important, it refuses to cheapen itself by relying on dumb jokes, even when the temptation to lean on nut puns is great.
Somewhat of a cross between the animal shenanigans of Over the Hedge (whose Lorne Cameron co-wrote the screenplay with Lepeniotis) and a splash of Ratatouille (Surly’s silent rat friend Buddy looks an awful lot like Remy), The Nut Job gets a boost with a nice parallel story of the nut shop’s criminal “proprietors” tunneling to the bank next door. Similar character types arise in both the animal and human situations along with the occasional overlap in dialogue. As they should be, the critters are the more appealing bunch. Only in the wild can nefarious park leader Raccoon (Liam Neeson) have a menacing sack-shaped cardinal perched on his arm, ready to fly off and do his bidding.
Elsewhere, Katherine Heigl is serviceable as recon squirrel Andie and Brendan Fraser is only occasionally annoying as her dumb alpha male counterpart Grayson. Maya Rudolph, atoning for her Turbo sins, is likewise pleasant as the humans’ would-be guard dog Precious and Jeff Dunham’s Mole has the advantage of sounding like Steve Whitmire’s Rizzo the Rat. Through their mostly harmonious sounds and an ever-churning narrative, it’s easy to fall for these characters and, in the inevitable action-packed climax, become caught up in their predicament. Only in the somewhat repetitive tunnel-digging scenes does the film become tiresome, but the boredom is fleeting and quickly replaced by the aforementioned quality action set piece.
Well-earned victory in hand, The Nut Job unfortunately decides to pay homage to their South Korean collaborators with a “Gangnam Style” end credits sequence, complete with an animated version of Psy and the bulk of the cast doing the viral video dance. Not nearly on the level of the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within cast perfectly moving to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the choice is a bad chaser to an otherwise good time. Unless you’re a Psy super fan, strongly consider exiting the theater before said gyrating commences.
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.
The Nut Job is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.