Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Nut Job [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-1)  ChicagoTribune (1 Star) (2 Stars)  AVClub (F)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars and really not for kids, see below)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. McFarland) review

The Nut Job [2014] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Peter Lepeniotis along with Lorne Cameron, story by Daniel Woo based on characters from Peter Lepeniotis' 11 minute animated short Surly Squirrel [2005]) is an animated film that IMHO really didn't deserve to be made and certainly not in its (PG / A-1) configuration. 

Both the animated short Surly Squirrel [2005] and now the feature film The Nut Job [2014] are about a rather unsympathetic squirrel named Surly (voiced in the current feature film by Will Arnett).  Why is Surly, well ... surly (rude, unfriendly)?  Well, he's presented as scheming and selfish.  He doesn't seem to care about the other nut eating rodents in the city park where he lives.

Now, in the actual "wilds" in front of my Rectory, it would seem that our neighborhood squirrels are, while cute as can be with white pelts on their tummies, not particularly altruistic either.  They don't seem to fight over nuts (or bulbs that they love to dig out of our garden) but they seem to "bury their stashes" of nuts, bulbs and acorns, each on their own.  So with the exception of being something of a foul mouthed squirrel (in the short) or simply "a squirrel with an attitude" (in the somewhat toned down feature), Surly doesn't really behave much differently than the average cute as a button squirrel "squirreling away" fallen crab apples from our tree gracing the front of our Rectory or the tulip beds gracing its sides.

How then to make a compelling movie about a squirrel acting like a ... squirrel?

Well both the short and the feature film postulate that "all the other rodents and nut-eating animals" of the city park where Surly lives "share all the nuts and other food stocks that they collect."  Communism.  And to make the point, both the short and the feature film posit a Raccoon (voiced in the feature film by Liam Neeson) as the Park's "Boss" in the short, and first its "Benevolent Leader" then exposed as its chief "Crook" in the feature.  So in good part, Surly is "surly" simply because he's living in a strange city park where the rest of his companions are behaving unlike normal animals (They seem to share what they find rather than keep what they find for themselves).

So is the message (remember that this is a children's film that's received a PG rating from the MPAA and an A-1 general admission rating (!) from the U.S. Catholic Bishops' media office) that sharing is unnatural (even a slippery slope to Communism) and humans too should be allowed to simply fend for themselves??  Hmm.

But the message gets even more confusing when one realizes that both short and feature film juxtapose Surly the squirrel's avarice for foodstuffs that he has no intention of sharing with anybody with a gang of humans seeking to rob a bank next door to the park.  So here the film makers seem to compare Surly's attitude of "the nuts I find are mine" with stealing. 

So what the heck are the film makers trying to say?  And is this really a film that you'd want your children to see?  At minimum, Surly is really a quite nasty (surly...) squirrel who never really changes for the better.  Parents, would you want your generally cute little kids to be nasty and never really change for the better either?

This is an odd little movie (the feature itself is only 87 minutes) and honestly not really for kids.

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