The animated film “The Nut Job” and its new sequel, like many a movie before them with the theme of man vs. nature, depicts a world in which grotesque humans are ultimately rendered powerless by animals (in this case, those of the cute, talking, saucer-eyed variety). Unfortunately, despite its adorable heroes, you’d have to be nutty to sit through “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” a largely unengaging modern-day animal fable.
The saga picks up some time after the first film left off, with Surly the purple squirrel (voice of Will Arnett) and his friends having become complacent after gaining free rein over an abandoned nut shop and its seemingly unlimited supply of food. Meanwhile, across the street from this site of feral bacchanalia, an industrious squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl) struggles to teach her children to work for their food, scrounging for nuts in Liberty Park.
The parable of rodent work ethics only goes so far when an explosion in the boiler room destroys the nut shop, leaving the animals to fend for themselves in the nearby park. But even that food source is threatened when the town’s mayor (Bobby Moynihan) decides to replace the unprofitable nature preserve with a moneymaking amusement park. Do our tiny animal protagonists have any hope of conquering the industrial juggernaut of human business interests?
What do you think?
If the well-worn premise of this furry David-and-Goliath tale had any potential, it’s undermined by a screenplay (by director Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen) that over-explains every one of Surly’s stale jokes and pratfalls, making them even less funny than they already are. For example, after Surly slams into a mailbox, he has to stop and clarify that he did not see it coming. Is it churlish to complain about the execution of slapstick humor in a children’s movie? Perhaps so, but comic timing is an art — one that, apparently, has eluded the filmmakers.
The movie slips in a bit of sentiment here and there, with a love story involving two dogs (Bobby Cannavale and Maya Rudolph) and a touching flashback to Surly’s lifelong friendship with a mostly mute rat (Tom Kenny). Otherwise, the family-friendly action is tired and predictable.
“Nutty by Nature” comes to life, however briefly, whenever a white mouse named Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan) appears on-screen, commanding his army of vermin. The movie’s end credits even feature animated “outtakes” like Chan adds to the end of his live-action movies. If the producers of “Nutty” had any sense, they would have handed the whole movie over to him.
PG. At area theaters. Contains animal in peril, cartoonish violence and moderate action movie mayhem. 95 minutes.