What happens when anthropomorphic animals and a crew of gangsters try to pull off the same kind of heist at the same time?
Oppa Gangnam style.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Surly Squirrel (voiced by Will Arnett) is a bad egg — or so the more team-minded denizens of Liberty Park and their leader, Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson), believe. After he and two park squirrels, Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (voiced by Brendan Fraser), try to take the stock of the same nut cart, with disastrous results, Surly is banished from the park and forced to make a new life in the unforgiving streets of New York.
After having a run-in with a nasty bunch of rats, though, Surly happens upon a veritable gold mine of a nut shop. Andie finds Surly and convinces him to let the park have half the haul for their winter store. The only barrier to the plan is the store’s yappy pug, Precious (voiced by Maya Rudolph) — and the gangsters using the nut shop as a front for a large-scale heist of the bank across the street.
The two operations progress side-by-side, with the gangster grunts moving shovelfuls of dirt to burrow under the bank at about the same speed as the groundhogs work on the tunnel into the shop. The animals’ efforts wreak havoc on the criminals’ plans, but they too are stymied by saboteurs. The stakes only continue to rise as both heists get down to the wire.
The parallel stories of the two heists are really interesting, and they play off of each other while being skillfully contrasted. Parents will probably get more of a kick out of the story of King (voiced by Stephen Lang), a recently released boss who wants to pull off just one more job before retiring and going straight with his girl, Lana (voiced by Sarah Gadon). But there’s plenty of animal action going on amid the mafia drama that even the smallest kids shouldn’t get bored.
Props, too, should be given for resisting some of the most common tropes of animal caper movies — making Surly a perfectly likable hero and throwing in a romantic subplot. You can kind of see what the other animals have against Surly and it takes a while to really root for him, for example, and it shy away from a fairy tale ending. And while Surly is aptly named, you can see moments of real friendship, both old and new, develop.
A nod goes to the animators, too. The expressions are some of the most subtly effective I’ve ever seen on an animated animal, and they go a long way to humanize them and punctuate the script.
As I mentioned before, Korean singer Psy’s viral YouTube hit “Gangnam Style” plays an oddly large role here. I mean, it only happened once, briefly, in the actual context of the movie, but at the beginning of the credits they have every single character riding invisible horses and whatever else Psy does in the music video. Psy is there, too. He’s animated.
I think at least part of the production or animation company is based in Korea, and it kind of dates how long it takes to make a movie like this. It was a little unexpected, especially since the rest of the movie seems to take place in the 1930s, but whatever.
Overall, there’s little offensive in “The Nut Job,” and kids should, well, go nuts for it.
Time: 86 minutes