Editor's Note: To review the latest animated film marketed at families, I decided to call in the big guns - four siblings who like to watch and talk about movies. What follows is their take, with some help from their parents.
The Nut Job follows the adventures of woodland creatures in a big city park who are desperate to survive the winter. After the entire winter supply of food is destroyed, the animal community blames and banishes a greedy self-centered squirrel named Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) from the park.
Alone, tired, and scared in the big city, Surly stumbles upon a dream come true: a nut shop. While he's planning to rob the nut shop, we quickly learn the shop owners were hardened criminals attempting to rob the bank across the street.
Meanwhile, worried about starving over winter, the park creatures make a daring attempt to find nuts in the big city. Andy (Katherine Heigl), the squirrel chosen to go search for food, meets Surly while he is planning to rob the nut shop, and Surly makes a deal with Andy.
Though they are suspicious of each other, Surly must work with his old park community to steal food for the winter while the humans work to steal the money from the bank. Throughout the rest of the story, The Nut Job shows how various trials reveal the true moral strength of the park's animals, with unexpected results.
Some of the most entertaining characters were the sidekicks and supporting actors. Precious (Maya Rudolf), the robber's guard dog, and a clueless self-loving squirrel named Grayson (Brendan Fraser) were the most humorous creatures in the movie. Though silent, both the plump quirky cardinal and the kind loyal rat named Buddy were also among our favorite characters. The film also alludes to Biblical stories and themes, such as the regret of the Prodigal Son, sacrificing oneself for friends, putting the community's need first, and desiring fair treatment for others.
However, we disliked the violent, crude humor. Smacking, kicking, farting, and burping were used to get laughs throughout most of the movie. The characters were plain. There was one friendly character we adored, and he was treated rudely. Unfortunately, most of the characters were mean.
Some parts of the story were not entertaining because we could tell what was going to happen, while other details about the human criminals were difficult to follow. In general, the jokes didn't really work, and were poorly timed.
Caveat Spectator: Parents' Summary
Although this film admirably avoided any allusions to genitals, the humor relied too heavily on violent slapstick and mild crudeness. The Nut Job did well where it highlighted the transformation of Surly, the squirrel in exile, from self-centered to self-sacrificing.
But in general, the story had too many things going on and was difficult for the kids to track. Characters were neither likeable nor endearing. Only one of the characters approached endearing (Buddy the rat), but he was treated so maliciously by the lead character Surly that it was hard to like Surly for the rest of the story.
Sensitive viewers would notice several recurring features. First, the character Grayson repeatedly treats women in general as his own fan-club, saying things like, "woman!", "Chicks dig the tail," and "why haven't you asked me out yet?" and refers to his own "sweet bod." Second, the one female human's curves are first viewed from the floor up in a modest but very tight outfit. Third, language such as "heck," "I'm gonna kill you," "shaved our butts," and "thing-a-ma-boobie" were used as substitute expletives throughout the movie.
Most perplexing to us: an animated PSY dances with all the movie's characters to "Gangnam Style" during the final credits. This seemed disconnected from everything in the film and features the repeated lines (the only words in English) "hey sexy lady."
The Final Word: Kids' Summary
The Nut Job wasn't the best kids' movie in the theaters right now. It was just okay, and not in the same league as Disney's Frozen. All of us agreed, we'll tell our friends to wait until this comes out of DVD. In the end, what's done well in this film doesn't overcome its weaknesses.
Benjamin (12), Claudia (11), Olivia (10), and Luisa (7) Johnson live in New Jersey with their parents, Dru and Stephanie.