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Video Reviews

Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy, Animation, Kids
Cast
Voices of Will Arnett as Surly; Brendan Fraser as Grayson; Liam Neeson as Raccoon; Katherine Heigl as Andie; Stephen Lang as King; Maya Rudolph as Precious; Sarah Gadon as Lana
Director
Peter Lepeniotis
Distributor
Open Road Films
In Theaters
January 17, 2014
On Video
April 15, 2014
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
The Nut Job

The Nut Job

Surly the squirrel has it all planned out. With the help of his generally useless but, thankfully, usually silent rat-partner-in-crime, Buddy, food for winter without all the work is all but theirs. They simply have to slip down to the hot-nuts vendor cart that just showed up on the corner, create a small distraction and make off with all the delicious morsels a thieving rodent duo could ever want.

Yeah, yeah, that pompous windbag Raccoon and his friends won't be happy. All they can whine on and on about is sharing with the park animal community and working for the common good. But that nicey-nice stuff doesn't move Surly. If he's got the brains to plan a job and the manpower to carry it out, then he's gonna be the one with a belly full of tasty goodness.

He'll admit that Andie, that cute female squirrel in the park's animal pack, can be a bit persuasive. She seems to sincerely care for the rest of the animals, as compared to the power-hungry Raccoon. But even she gives Surly the cold shoulder after the hot-nut cart heist goes south. Wow! Did that thing turn out to be a disaster! Thanks to some unfortunate missteps, the cart and its leaky propane tank end up kind of, well, ahem, destroying what little food the park community had in reserve.

As punishment, the animals banish Surly from the park altogether. But even a cold one-way ticket to a hard city won't finish him off. Surly the squirrel has only just begun! He'll show 'em and … hmmm, this little shop labeled Murray's Nuts might be just the place to start.

Positive Elements

In spite of his crusty exterior, down deep (way down deep) Surly feels a connection to his fellow animals. With some gentle encouragement from Andie, he's even persuaded to share the potential boon from his latest nut-stealing scheme with the park community. (I'll deal with the downside of this in "Other Negative Elements.") He eventually comes to learn that there is something to be found in belonging.

Buddy, for his part, may not be a big talker, but he knows how to be a dedicated friend, working tirelessly to aid Surly and later the park animals. In fact, the only words we hear Buddy speak are "best friend," a phrase the rat sighs in his pal's direction. By film's end, Surly comes to the conclusion that, "They say life's there for the taking, but the truth is, life's there for the sharing."

Note that the human community in the city has a positive female influence too, in the form of Lana. She's gang leader King's girlfriend, and she encourages him to steer toward the straight and narrow and leave crime behind.

Sexual Content

Lana dresses in a formfitting outfit. During the credits, the animals all dance with an animated version of Psy to his international hit "Gangnam Style." The mostly Korean lyrics include several English callouts of "Eh, sexy lady."

Violent Content

There are a number of animal/human chase scenes that layer in quite a lot of slapstick smashing and thumping. Surly ends up on the receiving end of that bashing as he's shocked, pummeled, blasted and bounced into the walls of buildings while trying to push through his light-fingered schemes.

As mentioned, the nut cart's propane line ignites, turning it into a fast-moving, jet-propelled missile that crashes and burns, literally, turning an ancient oak into a roaring bonfire. Several animals are harshly shocked while poking around in a fuse box. Snaggletoothed rats chase Surly and are sent running when they're hit by large pots.

A dog gobbles up a bird … only to spit it out … before it's hit by a passing truck. That same red bird is thrown in the window of a cat show—whereupon we hear cats screech and see the bird's feathers fly. A mole attempts to drown a pair of burrowing groundhogs by pumping water into their tunnel. Several dynamite explosions send humans and animals flying. During a police chase, cars smash and bullets fly.

Crude or Profane Language

Several uses of "heck" and "jeez"; one "holy Toledo!" A thick-headed critter is "encouraged" to "get your head out of your tail."

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

Surly's "stealing," whether to help himself get through the winter, or to ultimately help out all his furry friends, isn't much of a problem in the animal kingdom, of course. But anthropomorphized as they are, these cutesy critters do sort of have to be held to a higher (human) standard when it comes to morality. And that makes Surly's Grinch-meets-Robin Hood style feel much less helpful to your average 7-year-old moviegoer. (It's something that's much easier to recognize in what the humans are up to as the owners of Murray's Nuts work on their own thieving scheme to rob a neighboring bank.)

We ultimately find out that Raccoon is using the park animals' hunger to subjugate them to his will, Animal Farm style. "Less food, more control," he chants to his underling. And the film's main go-to for humor is a string of jokes about passing gas. A dog also applies its face-licking affection to an inappropriate part of another animal's anatomy for an offscreen giggle.

Conclusion

In 2005 Peter Lepeniotis created an 11-minute animated short about a rough-edged rebel squirrel named Surly. That stylish and popular online vid earned him the director's chair for this feature-length version—a flick that stretches Surly's tale to 86 minutes and fleshes the cast out with star-tier voices.

It also attempts to transition the action from gritty and "adult" (there's foul language and gun violence in the short) to silly and kiddie.

And I can't say that the trip was worth it.

The movie's animation is colorful and vibrant, to be sure. But old Surly tends to feel … a little too surly here. He's not very likeable for the majority of the film. And, in fact, few of his cronies are much more than merely obnoxious. The storyline is unnecessarily confusing. The action thumpingly and annoyingly frantic. The sparse supply of what might pass for humor is generally centered around some form of fart or belch. And the morals are muddied by the way this yarn tangles up the whole stealing thing.

I'm not saying it's a completely empty shell, family-entertainment-wise. (Virtues include nods to sharing and learning the value of true friends.) But I can't imagine anyone going nutty over this one.

(Ugh. It must be contagious. 'Cause the film cracks those same kinds of dumb puns.)

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