Not all rats look exactly alike, even animated ones. But there's a real resemblance between a rat in “The Nut Job,” the new film by Peter Lepeniotis, and Remy, the main character in “Ratatouille,” that wonderful 2007 Pixar film.
And that's not a good thing for “The Nut Job,” because anyone who makes that connection likely will be remembering how “Ratatouille” showed so beautifully that an animated film, done with the right skill and imagination, can be equally enchanting to kids and adults. Something that “The Nut Job,” a decent but frankly forgettable entry to the animal-centered animated film oeuvre, does not.
Like most animated films these days, “The Nut Job,” a joint Canadian-South Korean-U.S. production, trades on its celebrity voices, which here include Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph and, most recognizably, Liam Neeson, who sometimes sounds like he could be on a Shakespearean stage.
Not that you could call this dialogue Shakespearean. Or even witty. This being a film about squirrels and their nuts, kids will enjoy the “nut” puns, and parents will groan.
“Let's not get too nutty about this,” one character says. “Sorry, I went a little nuts,” says another.
The animals in Liberty Park, ruled by a gruff raccoon (Neeson) ominously just named Raccoon, are facing a severe nut shortage as winter is approaching.
Surly the squirrel (Arnett), who thinks only of himself, has somehow set fire to the winter stockpile. But Surly doesn't seem willing to help solve the situation, and he's banished from the park to the city.
There, he discovers a nut shop — cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, you name it. If he can snag that booty, he'll be golden for the winter, though that won't necessarily help out his furry friends in the park, led by the feisty Andie (Heigl). Of course, there's a big complication. A group of human lowlifes plotting a bank heist have connections to the nut stash, for reasons unrelated to nutrition.
So who'll win out, the human criminals or the park animals? And will Surly remain, er, surly and uncooperative, or will he work with the others? And what about Raccoon? Is there something menacing in that deep, husky voice?
Parents may concern themselves with these issues, while kids may simply be focusing on the puns, and, oh yes, the fart jokes.