'The Nut Job' review: Animated comedy will drive you squirrelly

The Nut Job, an animated movie about chatty squirrels and other city wildlife, is a mediocre family...

The Nut Job, an animated movie about chatty squirrels and other city wildlife, is a mediocre family entertainment that can be seen and easily forgotten. (YouTube)

Rating

2.5 Stars2.5/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:16 PM ET

The Nut Job, an animated movie about chatty squirrels and other city wildlife, is a mediocre family entertainment that can be seen and easily forgotten.

As a tale of crime, double-crosses, calamities, outcasts and redemption, it is certainly ambitious. But the way this story is told seems tired, full of clichés and dull dialogue. So it is too familiar for adults to get excited about and too convoluted for little kids to comprehend. Some children might even wait to react until South Korean pop star PSY does his Gangnam Style bit in the end credits, a sad reflection on how ‘exciting’ the rest of the movie is.

On the up side, the critters in The Nut Job are less annoying than those talking turkeys in the fowled-up Free Birds, which strutted out in November. Not to mention the prehistoric perambulators in Walking with Dinosaurs, which went extinct in December.

The “big picture” message is that it remains difficult to make high-end animation for both children and parents. That is why the really good but not great Frozen is a leading candidate to win an Oscar as best animated picture. Except for a few sequels, such as Despicable Me 2, we are at a low ebb in the tide of mainstream animation.

As a co-production of Canada and South Korea, The Nut Job is an international effort. It has American and Canadian voice talent, including Will Arnett as a loner squirrel named Surly, the Han Solo of eastern gray squirrels. Brendan Fraser voices Grayson, the flashy hero squirrel. Katherine Heigl provides sex appeal for girl-power Andi, a red squirrel. Liam Neeson is pompous park leader Raccoon. Other key characters — animal and human — are given life by Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham, Sarah Gadon and Annick Obonsawin (although I think her name was misspelled in the credits).

The Nut Job was written by Lorne Cameron and Peter Lepeniotis, from a story by Daniel Woo. Lepeniotis, who also directed, made an 11-minute short called Surly Squirrel in 2005. So he obviously initiated the concept that eventually became The Nut Job.

In the new story, Surly is banished from the city park by other animals because he is a selfish loner. Simultaneously, there is a serious food shortage. Andi and Grayson are sent looking for new winter supplies. They find themselves competing with Surly over bags of nuts in a store, which also happens to be a front for human criminals planning a bank robbery. The plots become intermingled.

The digital animation is competent, and also colourful. The talking animals are actually pretty realistic, from the two squirrel species through to the raccoon, the mole and the woodchucks. The “angry bird” style of drawing for the tough-beaked northern cardinal is different, but funny.

All jokes are clean. The action scenes are dramatic. The movie is sometimes intense. The morality lessons are predictable but defensible. The Nut Job might drive critics a little squirrelly, but most kids will sit through it without complaining.

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