Not so crazy for ‘The Nut Job’

There is a certain category of movies that most people encounter at some point, and which “The Nut Job” clearly falls into: So-Bad-It’s-Good. Directed by Peter Lepeniotis and set in fictional Oakton Park, “The Nut Job” starts out simply enough, with a hodgepodge group of small animals and its leader, Raccoon (Liam Neeson), declaring that they do not have enough food stored in their tree to last them the upcoming winter.
Surly, the appropriately named squirrel-protagonist of the film, also lives in the park but is not affiliated with the other group of animals. When Surly inadvertently destroys the other animals’ food supply though, he is banished to live in the city, where he finds a nut factory. When the other animals find the factory, Surly is charged with robbing it to make up for destroying the food supply.
This is about as far as the movie makes it before devolving into chaos. A supporting character becomes evil for an extremely flimsy reason, and there are so many double-crossings that the viewer is left wondering what is actually happening. In-between plot points, the movie spends a great deal of time cracking nut jokes, squeezing in fart gags and creating sequences of pure slapstick comedy. And while it attempts to relate the universal message that it is good to share, the film never goes beyond superficially dealing with that theme. The message feels less built-up throughout the movie and more tacked on at the end because it is a crucial ingredient in animated films.
Despite its drawbacks, “The Nut Job” manages to have a certain charm to it. There is an interesting parallel between the nut robbers and the bank robbers, and some of the slapstick humor manages to be funny. While replete with cringe-worthy wordplay, like the repeated use of “nuts” as a synonym for “crazy,” there are occasionally cute nut-isms, like two characters arguing over whether peanut brittle is a nut or a candy.
“The Nut Job” also gently laughs at old stereotypes of 1930s bank robbers and donut-eating cops, and makes repeated allusions to current pop culture. “Gangnam Style” is a running theme throughout the movie. The song is played when Surly discovers the nut factory and breaks into dance moves, and the credits feature a small animated PSY dancing his signature moves along with all of the animated cast. And while this may sound like an awful idea, its absurdity turns out to be both funny and cute.
While “The Nut Job” does not possess the wit and intelligence of other recent animated films, its lack of pretentions about itself are what inevitably redeems the film. While it does attempt a half-hearted universal truth, the majority of its 86 minutes are concerned with nothing other than delivering unadulterated, goofy fun.