Surly the squirrel is feeling pretty good about himself these days.
You see, he’s stumbled upon an abandoned nut shop with a basement chock-full of left-behind nuts. It is, quite simply, a treasure trove of gorge-yourself-goodness for the various hungry inhabitants of a nearby park.
No more scavenging and scrimping for these furry guys, no siree! They can lay about and grow fat on this Brazil nut bonanza for years to come.
Of course, that’s exactly the problem, if you ask Surly’s gal pal, Andie. She keeps sounding the warning that free and easy stuff will make every squirrel, mole, chipmunk and mouse in the neighborhood fat, lazy and spoiled. And she’s got a point: That’s exactly what they’ve become.
But when an accident burns their nutty nirvana to the ground, all those kick-back critters don’t know what to do. Other than look to Surly, that is: “What will you do to feed us now?” they ask. The answer? Figuring out how to survive again in the “wild” of the local park they once called home.
But there’s another problem, too.
Mayor Muldoon, a greedy human, plans to bulldoze that expanse of trees and grass and turn it into a more profitable endeavor: an amusement park.
Now what will the rodent residents do? Are they all gonna, gulp, die? Not if Surly has anything to say about it. Because even if life has gotten a bit, uh, squirrelly lately, Surly’s determined to keep things from going totally nuts.
“‘Easy doesn’t build character,” Andie the squirrel tells her beau.
“There are no shortcuts in life, Surly.” And The Nut Job 2 nicely illustrates that bit of old-fashioned wisdom.
When faced with disaster, the animals who’ve grown lazy and complacent have to work together to relearn how to be productive and to reclaim their former happiness. Accordingly, Surly and others put themselves on the line to help their friends. “We’re better together,” someone says. “If we put aside our differences and work together, we’re unstoppable.”
We also see Surly and his rat friend, Buddy, as youngsters. In a dangerous storm, each of them risks his life to save the other. Meanwhile, the only positive reference to humans in the story involves a news report about people making donations to rebuild the decimated city park.
A platoon of white mice are said to have learned kung fu by watching a monk in a Shaolin (Buddhist) temple.
A pug and a bulldog fall in love (and eventually have puppies).
To stop the mayor’s wicked, greedy plans, Surly and Co. must sabotage the amusement park’s construction and destroy all of its rides. Accordingly, there are fires and explosions. Huge metal attractions crash to the ground and destroy other structures. A foreman’s trailer is destroyed by several chipmunks. An exterminator blows up part of the park with sticks of dynamite. Cars, trucks and bulldozers crash and flip. A fall knocks someone out.
There’s quite a bit of comic thumping and pummeling, too. Surly slams into mailboxes after jumping out of moving vehicles. He tumbles hard into buildings. He’s beaten up by a small mouse, and he gets electrocuted when he bites into a wire. In fact, that same mouse and his fellows swarm through areas by the thousands, turning over vehicles and bashing baddies.
Mayor Muldoon says he doesn’t care if the park’s fuzzy denizens are hurt. In fact, he hires exterminators to wipe them out and demands Surly’s head “deep-fried and on a stick.” The mayor’s office, not surprisingly, sports animal heads hanging on the walls. Surly eventually gets back at the film’s chief villain and has him beaten up by his mouse buds. Surly also opines, “It’s times like this I wish I had rabies.”
Like her father, the Mayor’s young daughter is psychopathically cruel. She torments her pets and rips apart her dolls with fevered glee. Elsewhere, a man gets stung by a swarm of bees.
We hear a few uses of “jeez” and “heck.” Someone calls another animal a “moron” and “dumb.” A lone use of “What the …?” is left unfinished.
After being shot with a tranquilizing dart, the mayor’s daughter staggers about as if she’s drunk.
Even amid the movie’s residential crises, Surly can’t resist the allure of dabbling in his old nut-stealing ways. We also see some chipmunks gambling for nuts.
Mayor Muldoon talks of cutting corners and skimming illegal money out of every business in town. In fact, nearly every human here is somehow corrupt, seeking personal gain without concern for anyone or anything else.
There are a few gags (literally) involving canine regurgitation. And Surly complains about a dog’s overly affectionate licking habits: “I’ve seen the places you lick,” he says.
“I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.”
You’ll likely come across various versions of that sentiment if you’re scanning reviews of this sequel. That’s largely because the original Nut Job was, quite frankly, a rather rough-edged acorn. Of course, The Nut Job isn’t the only kids’ movie that’s ever earned that sort of cracked-shell assessment. But earn it, it did.
The Nut Job 2 is … better. Its characters feel as if they’ve taken some anger-management classes and come out more kid-friendly on the other side. This rollicking animated tale unfolds without as much toilet humor as its predecessor. And there are even some solid lessons in this nutty mix, too.
Whereas the first pic suggested that stealing your way to a winter nut stash was a dandy think to do, this one clearly tells kids that they’re only gonna be happy if they work hard for the things they want in life. In addition, we see that pulling together as a team and working diligently as a community makes life’s seemingly impossible tasks much more manageable.
Those are somewhat rare messages for the young mouse-and-squirrel set—who usually get little more than an ample serving of “Follow your heart!” in their matinee movies. But this sequel’s emphasis on hard work and working as a team could give moms and dads something substantive to discuss with their kids during the car ride home.
Granted, those lessons get delivered in a movie that’s otherwise bursting with nonstop animal mayhem, a story in which human characters are generally the worst kinds of predatory villains. But, hey, even in a bag full of otherwise tasty cashews and pecans, you’re bound to chomp down on some bits of broken shells.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.