The last time Will Arnett voiced a deluded blowhard was in The Lego Batman Movie, where the joke of the film was that deluded blowhards make terrible heroes and the result was strangely charming. But The Nut Job 2, like an episode of Seinfeld, leaves its protagonist much as it finds him. Arnett’s Surly squirrel becomes simply grating, and the film a thin patchwork of half-hearted storytelling and tired gags.
In a golden age for animation this just isn’t good enough.
The end of 2014’s The Nut Job saw Surly and his friends (including a surprising number of beavers and a pug) in sole custody of a closed down nut shop, where we rejoin them as they spend days of leisure squandering a lifetime supply of food. Only responsible Andie (Katherine Heigl) continues to value the old way of life, and to squirrel away stores for the winter, a practice which sees her roundly and repeatedly mocked by Surly and friends. The animals’ over-indulgence sets up a potentially interesting plot: will the gang have to rediscover moderation and fitness after all this over-eating and wastage? But the film never discusses anything as sensible as sustainability. Having accidentally destroyed their food stash, the characters spend perhaps half a minute on recriminations before shifting focus entirely and returning to their city park.
There’s just one problem. The rapacious city mayor (Moynihan) sees no financial benefit in open public spaces, and he plans to turn the animals’ home into an amusement park. So the gang must stop his development, in a plot lifted mostly from Furry Vengeance, and one that is somehow less convincing in animation than it was in that live-action take.
At times it also feels as though almost every character design has previously appeared in a better film: Surly’s silent rat friend Buddy (Tom Kenny) could hang out with Ratatouille’s Remy without raising eyebrows, while the mayor’s spoiled, abusive daughter Heather (Isabela Moner, not having a good summer after Transformers: The Last Knight) looks like a cousin to Finding Nemo’s red-headed Darla. Even Jackie Chan’s ninja mouse, Mr Feng, appears to be the missing link between Animaniacs’ Brain and Kung Fu Panda’s Master Shifu.
For a film which shifts focus pretty often, from the nut shop bacchanalia to the search for a similar bonanza to animals on a sabotage mission to a rescue operation, it’s all so surprisingly dull, making the film feel vastly longer than its running time. Perhaps that’s because the characters are so badly conceived. Ostensible hero Surly spends the film insulting his supposed love interest, though she’s generally the only character talking sense. He still gets the girl squirrel because… well, that’s not clear. Perhaps because they’re the only two squirrels among a strange assortment of small mammals. Everyone else seems to adore him as well, for reasons that are never apparent.
The humour too feels familiar and often deeply stupid, probably the result of casting such a dim bulb as the thinker of the gang. To make him look smart, most of the rest of the animals have to be barely functional. Kids might not mind all these flaws amid the bodily fluid gags (mostly slobber) and silly cartoon chase sequences, but adults will be bored out of their tree. In a golden age for animation this just isn’t good enough, and the flashes of cleverness it does manage just show what an unambitious mess this became.