Not Bad, but not as Nutty as it should be…

Director: Cal Brunker/2017

While The Nut Job didn’t set the standard in animated films, and frankly didn’t come close, it was a fun enough picture to warrant a second film and today the sequel drops, now called The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.  This title has an obvious “Naughty by Nature” rap group reference, which will be totally lost on kids, but the rest of the film should please most of the children, even if tonally the storyline is much darker than the original, and could stand to have some more humor.

Surly (Will Arnett) and the gang are living large in the Nut Shoppe that they discovered in the first installment.  They are so pleased with the abundance of nuts that they are growing fat and lazy, neglecting their natural instincts to hunt and gather nuts to store for winter.  The tree in Liberty Park is threadbare as only Andie (Katherine Heigl) is maintaining her role as an actual animal realizing the danger of comfort and lethargy.

The Nut Job 2, while still aiming for fun, does have some serious overtones.  The issue of having fully realized characters may be the one nut that is too hard to crack.

Surly has no such concerns, holding “all-you-can-eat” contests, an open tap of peanut butter, which the dog Precious (Maya Rudolph) loves.  All they have to do is monitor the boiler, but with all of the fun going on, Mole (Jeff Dunham) neglects his duty, and the shop blows up, and along with it is Liberty Park’s entire food supply for all of the animals.  Instead of heading back into nature and doing what they’ve done their whole lives, the animals look to Surly and his pal Buddy (Tom Kenny) to scavenge up some, while they simply collapse in the park, not knowing what to do, having grown so used to the easy life.

Meanwhile, an evil mayor, simply called The Mayor (Bobby Moynihan) is lamenting that the entire city is bringing in tax revenue except the park.  It just sits there filled with grass, and trees, and nothing is coming back to line his pockets.  So he hatches a plan to turn Liberty Park into a giant amusement park under the false pretenses of doing it for “the kids”.  To add even more profit, he purposely orders shoddy equipment for the rides, cuts corners, and orders the complete eradication of the park’s animal inhabitants.  This leads to Surly and the gang trying to fight back to hold the corporate and political wolves at bay.

Along the way, Surly encounters a gang of rats led by Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan), who don’t want Surly and his park ways around their turf, causing a possible two-front war for this crazy squirrel and his friends.  Throw in The Mayor’s insufferable daughter, Heather (Isabela Moner) who is a spawn of her hellish old-man, and has her dog Frankie (Bobby Canavale) and now Precious in her sights.

Arnett plays his usual inept, self-absorbed self, and as usual can be very funny, much like his Lego Batman, and even Arrested Development’s Gob Bluth.  This plays well against Katherine Heigl’s eager-beaver Andie.  The film’s storyline is more fast-paced this time around, though not as frantic in terms of hyper characters bouncing around. Though it is a kid movie, and so you can expect some of that.

The Nut Job 2, while still aiming for fun, does have some serious overtones.  The issue of having fully realized characters may be the one nut that is too hard to crack.  The Mayor is basically seen as a despicable human being.  He is of course a politician, and lots of comedy mileage is attempted to be gained in the characterization of him as a greedy, morally-challenged man, who knows how to twist his words in front of the media.  Sadly, there isn’t a bone in him to redeem.  Couple that and an equally moral bankrupt daughter, who as a child it is much sadder to say isn’t really redeemable either, and you have, of course, created some very 2-diminsional antagonists.

What also makes the mayor a vile person is that he has no regard for life, looking to shoot and mount every animal he sees.  He doesn’t care about regulations or the safety of those who would come to this amusement park.  Throw in his disregard of green space or the environment in favor of obscene profits, and more accurately, bribes, and he sinks even lower in the likable scale.  It is much too cliché as it is obvious which side of the political aisle is in the crosshairs by this caricature, but thus too easy of a target.  As an animated character, it might be easy to gloss this over, but a little more depth and attempt to humanize the villain, even if ever so slightly, and this film could have had a lot more emotional impact.

When the final frame appears, the story has resolved itself on all fronts, and Surly, true to self, denies having learned anything through the order, though he has.  When the credits roll, however, don’t vacate the theater too quickly, as there is a post-credit scene involving a familiar face.  Since The Nut Job 3 is already in production, it will be easy to see where this series is headed.

The Nut Job series has been a second tier animation series, story-wise, when compared with Disney/Pixar, or even the Despicable Me series, but The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature is better than this summer’s Despicable Me 3 at least.  This means that it could find some marginal success as a back-to-school film for the kids before they are hitting the books this fall.  While much more needs to be done to raise the narrative, and have a little character growth, it is headed in the right direction.  Now, can we just provide more humor?  Nutty should be its middle name….