Let’s be frank: there wasn’t much memorable about The Nut Job. Well, at least for me, having only seen it a few days prior to screening The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature. Its title reference to the rap crew who brought you “O.P.P.” notwithstanding, there’s not much memorable about this installment, either.
Of course, when it comes to animated childrens’ films, the Nut Job films have a lot of competition. Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Animation – they’re the big fish in a tiny pond with proven track records. With powerhouse studios like these, credit is due to Open Road Films for continuing its foray into the world of kid cinema, even if it is with a relatively harmless and somewhat forgettable film.
What The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature has to offer is a solid piece extolling the virtues of family and working together. It’s wrapped up in a fairly innocuous package, with all the requisite body humor the little ones seem to laugh at the most. But it’s also got a solid heart at its core, even if its trappings come straight out of a sitcom playbook.
Surly the Squirrel (Will Arnett), the antihero of the first film, returns to be the aloof, detached, and fleet-fingered hardhead. Not much has changed since then, except for that he’s invited all of the Liberty Park animals to join him in pigging out at the nut shop he found in his previous adventure. They’re getting lazy, spoiled, and fat, losing all of their animal instincts, which Surly’s love interest Andie (Katherine Heigl) is so desperate to maintain and instill in the young ones.
Much like the first film, an explosion kicks the plot off, especially since it destroys the nut shop. Having to revert to the “wild” of Liberty Park is just too much for some, and it gets even worse when the unscrupulous mayor (Bobby Moynihan) executes his plan to bulldoze the park. Why? Every square inch of his city is making him money except for the park. It’s a solid slap aimed at capitalism, corruption, and urban sprawl, and it comes off every bit as heavy-handed as you’re probably assuming.
It’s not a bad film at all, with bravery and heroism coming from those you’d least expect. The film’s values – leaving nature be, friendship, allying with those once feared – are admirable and make this film worth a watch. However, there’s no lasting zing or vibe to the film at all. It’s entirely a middle-of-the-road film comfortable in its position as such, content to stock its running time with archetypal characters and predictable action.
We’ve seen the “thief with the heart of gold” many times before, and Arnett’s Surly doesn’t add much. However, Arnett fills his role well with patter and rhythms capable of holding our attention and entertaining us. On the quieter side, Surly’s silent friend Buddy (Tom Kenny) is the most fun character of the film. He’s the guy who can unexpectedly get things done while the others stand by, planning to do what he’s already accomplished; such characters are always enjoyable to me.
Opposite Arnett, Heigl plays Andie with all of the verve of a harried mother who’s taking care of both the young and the immature, leading to a very nagging performance. Which, on the film’s terms, is what it’s meant to be, so don’t get me wrong; Heigl plays the voice of reason well, providing a nice balance to Surly’s fast-talking persona.
Yet for all of its positives, The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature is one of those films you’ll forget almost as soon as you’re out of the theater. Or when you shut off Netflix. There are worse ways to pass the time, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking. It’s as rudimentary as animated films get, but the voice cast gets the job done. At least this time, there’s no “Gangnam Style” moment to instantly date it.