The latest from DreamWorks is the first for Peter Lepeniotis, a Toy Story 2 animator that uses his 2005 short Surly Squirrel as a jump off point for his directorial debut (but it’s okay to go ahead and think this is all because of Ice Age’s nut-hunting Scrat). There’s no chance the kids will be bored but The Nut Job is far too busy for its own good.
Will Arnett, who ditches that growly voice when it would have suited him most, is Surly, a squirrel who looks after number one, refusing to be taken in by the quasi-Pinko park cabal of rodents and birds headed up by the wise Raccoon (Neeson). Blamed for a mishap that burns down the gang’s winter food stock, Surly is banished to the city where he finds a nut store used by gangsters as a front and sees a way to turn around his current spate of misfortune…
The Nut Job is jam-packed with incident. Kicking off with a zippy introduction to this crazy world, its mad characters, and its chaotic hijinks, it doesn’t let up until it finishes with PSY’s Gangnam Style. If it isn’t running from street rats, it’s in a pigeon-assisted escape off a rooftop, or a high-speed car chase. Lines (a lot of them a pun on nuts) come thick and fast with a host of supporting characters - Heigl’s love interest, Fraser’s clueless hero type, Maya Rudolph’s dog, the FOUR gangsters and their moll, etc - pitching in with their own particular brand of quirkiness. The kids won’t have the chance to tune out that’s for sure.
But it’s hard to keep a handle on anything. It’s behaves a giddy child that wants to dash about and check out everything at once; director Lepeniotis is willing to let everything run wild, reducing the story is reduced to loosely connected shorts. When in doubt, which is whenever the story hints at a momentarily lapse in activity, Lepeniotis reverts to belching groundhogs, slapstick, farting groundhogs, and more slapstick lest the kids think about taking their eyes off the screen. He goes for ker-razy, nutty in fact (the deluge of bad puns eventually rub off), and in the process misses out on something that could have been refreshingly original - a take on a bank job in a 1950s setting.
With all the noise and frantic pace, it’s oddly Raccoon’s sidekick, a mute cardinal that never moves, that is the most memorable.