The Nut Job is a head-scratcher. Kudos to writers Lorne Cameron and Peter Lepeniotis for pitching a curveball, though: a basic talking-animal cartoon with a parallel plot about 1950s gangsters. Unfortunately, the human characters' goon patois makes little sense next to the modern slang of the rodent protagonists in this Canadian and South Korean co-production. How "Gangnam Style" fits into all of this is a mystery, but that doesn't stop the filmmakers from trotting out that old K-pop ear-bleeder twice in one movie. Even worse are the multiple fart gags, but there is a breath of fresh air in this story.
Will Arnett voices Surly Squirrel, a loner and iconoclast disinclined to join the collectivist community of squirrels, rats, moles and other furry foragers that share the same park. But when the food supply runs low, he agrees to lead a heist on a nearby nut shop, which is the front for some hooligans planning a bank robbery of their own.
There's no shortage of bad guys here. Everybody's a rat, so to speak, from the human heavies and Liam Neeson's raccoon demagogue on down to a menacing gang of actual rats. None of the good guys are all that interesting, though, either in concept or execution. (The voice work isn't very impressive, and in the case of Arnett, it's simply uningratiating.) But the richly hued CG animation is quite nice,a mix of hyper-detailed character work, painterly cityscapes and pastoral scenes. The script, meanwhile, putters along with small but regular amusements.