Squirrel-centric sequel stars Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Jackie Chan, Tom Kenny, and Maya Rudolph.
Everyone loves to be pleasantly surprised by a movie. What's even better? Being surprised by being pleasantly surprised by a movie.
There is no known expectation of The Nut Job sequel being any good in any way. The 2014 original proved to be one of the worst offenders in the bloated category of irritating animated kids movies. Snarky talking squirrels hatch a scheme to steal the mother load of delicious, sustaining nuts. Annoying wisecracks and grating "comedy" abounds amid subpar animation. In the end, everyone gets what they want: a life of comfort, ease and pleasure as they forever gorge themselves on the abandoned stock in the basement of a closed-down gourmet nut shop, just across the street from their park home. They live happily ever after. The end.
Except, somehow, The Nut Job did well enough financially to warrant a sequel. What were the odds of such a follow-up endeavor possibly being any good??
Color me purple and call me fuzzy, but The Nut Job 2 one of the greatest course-correction sequels of all time. Not that it's brilliant, far from it actually. But there is undeniable pleasure in watching this film go through its motions in a right, proper and witty way, devoid of grating, annoying kid-pandering.
If anything, the increased seriousness of the story beats and lessons learned indicate a screenplay that might've been quite darker, initially. For example, when the plot calls for a particular character to come into harm, rather than see the critter get shot, the projectile hits the platform he's standing on, crumpling it and causing him to fall. Same results, but displaying a certain appreciated sensitivity to younger viewers.
The expected assault of toilet humor is absent, excepting a moment that seems to be mocking the entire notion of homogenized dirty joking for kids. Following a squirrel assault on the evil Mayor's (Bobby Moynihan) invasive construction in their park, the foiled head thug reports on the defeat with shame in his voice, "...They threw our potty in the river." There's something subtly self-aware about the word choice and delivery in that moment.
In its place, there’s some honest to goodness character moments, including an emotional backstory detailing how Surley met his loyal and kooky cohort, Buddy the rat. While it’s doesn’t reach the weepy levels of Toy Story 2’s When She Loved Me (what does??), it’s apparent that the filmmakers were taking their inspiration from the right places this time.
Returning for vocal talent duty are leads Will Arnett, who originated the cocksure Surly the squirrel before the world witnessed his debut as Lego Batman, and Katherine Heigl as Angie. While Surly is content to lazily live off the nut-topian bounty of their big Nut Shop score, Andie has consciously adopted a lifestyle of refusing it, on account of it's not natural. According to her, wild animals love be off the land and sharpen their instincts, as opposed to a gluttonous life of "handouts".
Their vaguely political and sociological subtext is confronted by a third voice in the mix, that of the Mayor's uber-greedy agenda based upon capitalism run amok. His beef with their world? The park they live in is the last bit of the town that doesn't make him any money. Time to change that!
The expedited way in which the screenplay disposes of the Nut Shop so that Surley and company must be motivated to save the park is so tossed off, so transparent that it plays as slyly devious. For the plot to move forward, everything they worked for in the first movie must be removed.
So, the Nut Shop blows up. One line about a boiler being neglected, done and done. Moving on! Again, from a screenwriting perspective, The Nut Job 2 is weirdly admirable in its straightforwardness, something it can likely only get away with being a film of its pedigree with such low expectations.
The Mayor proceeds to gut the park to create Libertyland, a nonsensically crappy amusement park. Wooden office chairs on the swing ride, sloppily painted signs, a ferris wheel that becomes unhinged by a rodent, that sort of thing. (How else to communicate to the under-six crowd that this bright new fun park actually sucks?) It all turns out okay, as it’s nothing a good bit of activist vandalism can’t fix.
Additional vocal talent Maya Rudolph and Jeff Dunham also return to their established characters, joined by newcomers Peter Stormare, Tom Kenny, and in a small role (in more ways than one), Jackie Chan. All is well; well enough, at any rate. At no point was this weary father of four bored or irritated by this kids film, which is honestly saying something. Just to reiterate, I did not see this coming.
In short, The Nut Job series (if that’s what we’re now looking at) got a thoughtful and character-driven makeover.While The Nut Job 2 doesn't quite reach the heights of the average Pixar film, it is family viewing that is certainly more than it was cracked up to be. It is also one of the most refreshing surprises at the multiplex in 2017.