The production of a successful feature length cartoon is a hard nut to crack. For every animated hit, a dozen sink without trace, kept by parents as backup DVD entertainment for their kids on a wet afternoon. Fortunately The Nut Job (2014) doesn’t fall into this category. Clearly no Oscar winner, neither is this new film – directed by Peter Lepeniotis and featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson – a dud.
Surly (Arnett) the squirrel is a moody loner, who has been banished from the rodent community in the inner-city park where he lives. Desperate to find food to survive on the mean city streets Surly, and rat friend Buddy (Robert Tinkler), discover heaven in the form of a seemingly abandoned nut shop. Unknown to them however the shop is cover for a group of desperate bank robbers, who are about to pull off an enormous bank robbery, causing havoc for anyone – animal or human – who gets in their way.
The Nut Job possesses many of the requirements needed for a potential hit – goofy, family friendly characters, beautifully realised animation and cleverly incorporated, recognisable contemporary hit music, which fits seamlessly into the overall production. The result is permeated with an air of 1940s ‘American Noir’, embodied in the cityscape where the rodent friends find themselves pitted against all kinds of potential threats – animal, human and mechanical. This is also where one of the film’s best characters – head robber Percy ‘King’ Dimplewade’s (Stephen Lang) girlfriend Lana (Sarah Gadon) – appears. A more bewitching embodiment of Hollywood screen siren Lana Turner would be hard to find, and Lana’s character holds everyone’s (both the animated cast’s and the audience’s) attention when she appears.
Even so, something is missing. The film’s frantic storyline – offering plenty of opportunity for the usual slapstick jokes and ‘subtle’ innuendo – is also its downfall. One of the best things about films from Disney – the daddy of all animated film producers – is the strength of their plots. Even their films based on well known fairytales rework the stories in such a way that they seldom drag for what can often be quite long running times for a cartoon. The Nut Job’s premise however is limited: stretched thinly over eighty five minutes it could easily have taken cuts without loosing anything, whilst tightening its overall impact.
Frequently touted month’s before release, cartoon features sometimes end up not being all they were cracked up to be when they eventually hit cinemas. With a reasonably low profile release expectations for The Nut Job‘s success have not been overhyped, making the result a pleasant, if untaxing, surprise.
Animation, Family, comedy
1st August 2014 (UK)
Brendan Fraser, Will Arnett, Stephen Lang, Sarah Gordon, Liam Neeson, Robert Tinkler