Fresh off a year that didn't have many rewards for fans of animated features (I liked Frozen, but still feel that The Wind Rises was overpraised), 2014 isn't exactly getting off to a strong start. Made on the cheap in Korea, The Nut Job is actually quite a good-looking film, filled with pleasing colors and nicely detailed elements such as realistic hair and water, and there's plenty of breakneck action going on to keep very young kids occupied.
But it falls short everywhere else. From the get-go, the idea that the film's two central stories about two simultaneous heists would fit together into one neat whole doesn't work. You've got your animals in the park, worried that with fall coming on there won't be enough food to go around, so a plan is put into action to steal a bunch of peanuts from a local nut shop. Then you've got the owners of that "soon-to-open" nut shop, who are actually a bunch of crooks with a plan to break into a bank vault.
No matter how many times — the number is high — the two groups intersect and kind of interact, nothing makes them mesh. This is a case of two completely different stories being passed off as one.
Yet that could still work in this relatively (and mercifully) short film, if only the characters were interesting and the acting was good. Nope and nope. Not one of these talented folks rises to the occasion, including Will Arnett as a self-centered squirrel, Brendan Fraser as an egotistic squirrel, Katherine Heigl as a sweet but tough squirrel, Liam Neeson as a less-than-benevolent raccoon, and Maya Rudolph as a moronic dog. There's a good chance these folks actually phoned in their performances.
What's worse is that the film is loaded with gags that fall flat (though I did laugh once) and some irresponsible violence toward animals (one of them is repeatedly tortured by the sound of a dog whistle). On top of that, it carries a half-baked, misguided message about what appears to be the extremely thin line between selfishness and heroism. Yet even that gets lost in the film's final minutes, when too many loose story ends are sloppily tied up in a confusing jumble of too many conclusions. I really couldn't figure out was going on, and neither could the kids in the audience who, by the way, weren't laughing. Bad sign. ♦