ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

In the town of Oakton, mischievous squirrel Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) is on a mission to gather up as many nuts as he can for the winter. While the other tree-dwelling animals, led by Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson), in the park contribute their share for the upcoming winter, Surly’s in the gathering game only for himself.

Following an accident, caused by Surly, that destroys the animals’ supply of food, Raccoon banishes Surly forever from the park. This comes at much hesitant displeasure from Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl), who isn’t on Surly’s side by any means, but feels Surly deserves a fair trial.

Gotta love social justice in an animated film. The kids are gonna eat that up.

Now exiled to the city, Surly stumbles upon a silver lining – a nut shop. Determined to take advantage of this newly discovered goldmine, Surly hatches a plan with some of the other animals to rob the shop, all the while avoiding the owners of the establishment who have some devious plans of their own.

The Nut Job was inspired by director/co-writer Peter Lepeniotis’s (animation director for Toy Story 2) animated short Surly Squirrel. The animation is quite good and the voice talent for all the characters are well cast. It’s unfortunate, though, that Lepeniotis takes a storyline that works great for a short film and tries to stretch it out into a full feature-length film.

Will Arnett (best known for his role as “Gob” Bluth, Jr. in TV’s Arrested Development) voices the lead of Surly. Arnett can be quite a character in both live-action and animation and does what he can here with a script that’s rather short on the laughs and relies way too much on “nut” puns. It doesn’t help either that Surly is not that likeable of a lead character to begin with, although we do get the predictable redemption moment at the film’s climax.

The rest of the supporting characters are brought to life through a talented group of individuals. Liam Neeson is perfectly cast as the gruff veteran leader of the woodland critters, Raccoon. For the short amount of time that she has, Maya Rudolph is funny as a pug named Precious, and Katherine Heigl is effective in more of the straight role where everyone else plays off of her. Ironically, though, the most animated and likeable character out of them all is a rat friend of Surly named Buddy who barely speaks throughout the film, save for two words.

The problem’s not the animation or the voice talent, it’s the writing, which stretches its short-story concept too thin. Unlike past animated films such as Pixar and last year’s wonderful Frozen, this film lacks a universal appeal between both children and adults. The film noir angle (the story is set in the 50′s) with the human characters will go over the kids’ heads and doesn’t bring much to the table for adults. Of course, being that it’s an animated film released at the beginning of the year, it’s unfair to go into this comparing it to anything Pixar’s done or Frozen, but on paper, it’s an intriguing premise that could’ve been more entertaining than what the final result ends up being.

While there are some laughs and the animation is lively and what we pretty much expect from animated films today, there’s not much here to keep adults interested or entertained. Children may get a kick out of the variety of animal characters that pop up throughout the movie, and there are some decent themes of teamwork and loyalty that you can’t say are bad to promote to kids. Overall, though, it’s an interesting idea from a much better animated short that doesn’t translate to feature-length as well as it could’ve.

I give The Nut Job a C (★★½).

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