The Nut Job: Film Review

A whimsical period setting helps this 3D animated caper escape some overly familiar trappings.

Will Arnett, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl play hungry park critters who perpetrate a nutty heist in this 3D animated feature.

It may not be the freshest acorn in the tree -- as evidenced by an end-credits "Gangnam Style" sequence complete with an animated PSY -- but The Nut Job still proves to be a more pleasant diversion than those noisy TV spots would indicate.

Benefiting from an inspired period setting that informs both its look and characterizations, the heist film wears its vintage Looney Tunes influence prominently in its depiction of a mid-20th century metropolis overrun with Runyonesque types of both the animal and human variety.

As voiced by a group of performers including Will Arnett, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl, those divergent tones never quite feel like they're on the same page (let alone in the same room), but the ensuing antics are sufficiently nutty to engage family audiences.

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A feature-length take on his 2005 animated short, Surly Squirrel, director Peter Lepeniotis' 3D caper is set in fictional Oakton City, circa 1959, where a serious late-fall nut shortage is threatening the lives of the foraging inhabitants of Liberty Park.

But surviving the winter could be a breeze if the rogue, gravelly voiced Surly (Arnett) manages to pull off a heist of epic proportions involving knocking over a nut shop.

Banished by the arrogant Raccoon (Neeson), the self-proclaimed leader of the park's denizens, Surly initially goes it alone before begrudgingly being joined in his nutty quest by fellow squirrels, the compassionate Andie (Heigl) and the narcissistic Grayson (Brendan Fraser), among other rodents.

Turns out they're not the only ones eyeing the nut shop -- so are a bunch of gangsters, led by the imposing King (Stephen Lang), intent on tunneling their way into the bank vault just across the street.

Despite the pervasive air of familiarity that also extends to the likes of Scrat from the Ice Age films, a sidekick rat resembling Ratatouille's Remy and aspects of 2006's Over the Hedge, co-written by Nut Job scripter Lorne Cameron, the production squeaks by on the visual charm of art director Ian Hastings' period touches and warm autumnal hues.

The voice talent is a decidedly mixed bag.

While Arnett's gruff tones would seem to be well-suited for the surly protagonist, the delivery lacks an undercurrent of empathy that would have made for a more likable character.

Elsewhere the portrayals tend to come across as either too frantic or too understated to jibe agreeably, with the notable exception of Maya Rudolph, who practically steals the show as Precious, an eager-to-please, bug-eyed pug.

Production: Redrover Co, Toonbox Entertainment, Gulfstream Pictures
Voice cast: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Dunham, Stephen Lang.
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Screenwriter: Lorne Cameron, Peter Lepeniotis
Executive producers: Daniel Woo, Hong Kim, Jay Ahn, Mike Karz, William Bindley
Producers: Wookyung Jung, Graham Moloy
Music: Paul Intson
Editor: Paul Hunter

Rated PG, 86 minutes