Admirably attempting to answer the question of what – if anything – remains at the bottom of a thoroughly scrapped barrel, director Cal Brunker has taken on the mantel of Peter Lepeniotis to present The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, a sequel to 2014’s The Nut Job.
Will Arnett once again voices Surly, a hard talking but lazy purple squirrel in pursuit of an easy life with his mute rat partner – named, with similar creative inspiration – Buddy. Katherine Heigl plays Andie, who (because she’s a woman…) is characterised as sensible, compassionate and boring. Note that the biggest stars of the film’s predecessor – Liam Neeson and Brendon Fraser – are conspicuous here only by their absence.
Three years ago, The Nut Job was a film so definitive in the category of ‘does not need a sequel’ that it would be risibly easy enter this sophomore outing completely oblivious that it is a sequel, were it not a catch up summary at its start and the ‘2’ of its title. Not that this particularly matters, with the follow up largely opting to play safe and repeat the beats of the former, continuing its habit of pinching plots and gags from other, much better films.
Having arced from moronic outcast to heroically moronic outcast in The Nut Job, Surly is once again amid the local animal community as Nutty by Nature opens. Or rather, the local animal have migrated from their home at Liberty Park to join him at the city nut shop nearby, which has now been long closed down but still, weirdly has a huge stock of nuts. When the shop explodes – following the line: ‘It’s not like the nut shop’s going to explode’ – the animals are forced to return to their old home in the park to scavenge for their supplies. Except, the park, they discover, is about to be dug up and converted into the more profitable funfair, ‘Liberty Land’, by money-grabbing Mayor, Percival J. Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan).
Endless sequences of snide arguing and fighting follow, with Jackie Chan showing up as the cute-looking, but actually nihilistic leader of a street gang of kung fu mice.
Films, particularly those aimed at younger audiences, pilfer from each other all the time. Frankly, originality is as rare as purple squirrels from most studio animations. Often, however, this is an issue that can be negated by the realisation of lovable characters through skilful animation. The Nut Job 2 has no such luxury.
There are practically no likeable characters within this film. Indeed, the majority – Surly first and foremost – are actively hateful. Any progress made by the purple protagonist in the last film has been wound back for this one, so as to allow Arnett to prattle his way through exactly the same arc again. Were Mayor Muldoon not hideous enough an addition, his heinously spoilt daughter makes Toy Story’s Sid seem like a member of the Famous Five.
When it comes to the animation itself, the work here is perfectly fine, if never finely perfected. Watch for one moment in which the letters forming the sign for ‘Liberty Park’ read the name in the correct direction on both sides of the arch they make up.
Almost aggressively unoriginal, The Nut Job 2 manages to summarise its problem within its own round table-constructed script:
‘What’s wrong with easy?’ says Surly.
‘Easy doesn’t build character,’ replies Andie, ‘easy doesn’t last.’