Surly the purple squirrel has been sitting back on his furry haunches and not living as a wild animal should.
A local nut shop has recently closed, and with its easily accessible basement still full of, dare I say it, nut sacks, Surly (Will Arnett) and his little friends are ignoring their animal instincts and settling in there for the long haul. They eat nuts, play nut-eating games and then eat more nuts – until an exploding boiler leads to what must be the world’s biggest nut roast and no more free food.
Luckily earnest red squirrel Andie (Katherine Heigl) has been trying to teach the younger mammals how to find nuts in the wild and store them for winter – though her repeated entreaties to the other animals to start looking for food fall on deaf, if adorably strokable, ears.
Surly offers to find food for everyone but still doesn’t understand that they’re born to be wild, and treks across town with his best friend Buddy, looking for the finest fast food. Even then he’s the kind of leader who over-promises and under-delivers (which I suppose at least makes him realistic) and he returns without even a carton of trans-fats, sugar and palm oil to his name.
But in a neatish twist, the no longer particularly wild animals now face an additional threat, as their park home is to be developed. Evil bribe-taking mayor Percival Muldoon decides that to squeeze every last dollar from the city he’s going to turn the leafy oasis into amusement park Liberty Land – and this means the local animal population must be removed. Muldoon is in thrall to two things: money (his car has diamond $ signs on the wheels), and his mini-me daughter, the brattish young Heather.
Naturally Surly proclaims a fightback but there’s a limit to the long term damage a squirrel can do to a major building project by running up a workman’s trouser leg (though the longer term damage to the workmen could be significant). The animals’ initial tactics to defeat the bulldozers are a triumph of exuberance over technique, and soon Gunther the evil pest controller is on their case.
Surly is good at talking the talk but can he walk the walk, and more importantly nut somebody in the nuts who is trying to destroy their leafy home? Andie tries to encourage everyone: “why lounge around when you can scrounge around for nuts on the ground?” which fair enough does rhyme but isn’t very inspiring for a group of would-be sloths.
There’s an attempt to find a new home but Andie’s trek across the city ends, as in Alien Covenant, with a false Eden. And like that perfect planet, it’s devoid of animal life – though this time because it’s a golf course. Throw in a team of FGS-don’t-call-them-cute adorably squeakily SUPER CUTE martial arts-trained little white mice (“weapons of mouse destruction” no less) who Surly crosses and then has to beg for help, and the scene is set for a showdown on Liberty Land’s opening night.
There are some fun ideas. Precious ( a fabulous Maya Rudolph), a pug who lives in the park with Surly and the others, becomes the object of unwanted affections when Heather’s bulldog Frankie decides he is in love with her. She does end up falling for him, though thankfully not in a creepy stalker way like in Passengers. Her growing affection for a canine who not only decides they are stronger as one and renames them Frescious, but also shows his love by regurgitating food for her, is really quite sweet. The mouse battalion – with lead mouse Mr Feng voiced by Jackie Chan no less – is also funny in small, rodent dropping-sized doses.
And actually Frescious have the best lines. Forced to perform tricks for snacks after being kidnapped by Heather to live with Frankie, Precious is asked to roll over but says mournfully “I can’t, I’m not classically trained!”. But many of the gags fall flat, and some are simply bizarre – much as I love Gerard Butler even I was surprised to hear a reference to Spartan epic 300 with Gunther shouting “tonight we dine on squirrel!”
I have, though, pretty much reached the end of my tether with this idea that it’s acceptable to poke fun at overweight children, in this case Heather, the mayor’s daughter. She is a very brattish, selfish and at times downright cruel little character. But she could have been all of those things and still been drawn as normal weight. It’s unnecessary and unpleasant, and quite why it’s okay to characterise her like this in a mainstream film aimed at kids, when overweight children face enough pressures in real life, I have no idea.
The plot meanders along. The white mice are an enjoyable distraction but don’t really add much, and the golf course diversion is just a device to get the mice on board. Mainly the movie feels like a series of scenes linked together by a well-worn plot, and the story doesn’t really make sense (a clearly decrepit amusement park is never going to open, and the mice u-turn isn’t believable).
That aside, Nut Job 2’s story of a flawed hero whose hubris and laziness initially threaten disaster before succeeding is reasonably entertaining. And the last scenes show that Surly certainly hasn’t undergone a great character transformation, which is a refreshing change in this world where we are constantly exhorted to be the best we can be (trust me, there’s a lot to be said for being as good as you need to be at that particular time then having a little lie down). But there isn’t anything new in the movie, or enough nuttiness for parents or children.