Film Review: The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

A thoroughly unentertaining animated feature about animals discovering their environmentally friendly roots while battling a corrupt mayor’s plan to destroy their natural habitat.
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Cataclysmic events-cum-explosive noises make for child abuse, not to mention adult abuse—and regrettably, that’s the defining aesthetic (such as it is) of the animated feature The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, a sequel to 2014’s The Nut Job.

As in all anthropomorphic flicks of this ilk, simple-minded lessons are in abundance: In this instance, it’s the virtues of pulling together as a team, hard work and the natural order of, well, all things natural. Animals are good, people are bad. Here, the most evil figure is the mayor, who is mean-spirited, money-grubbing and corrupt. His daughter is no winner, either. Both are morbidly obese.

Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett), his pug pal Precious (Maya Rudolph) and his best friend, the mostly silent Buddy the rat (Tom Kenny), along with an array of other fuzzy quadrupeds, are happy campers as they have settled into an abandoned nut shop and no longer need to forage for food. Their inner lazy is well-served and everything is just dandy until the nut shop explodes in a freak accident.

Surly and his friends are forced to return to Liberty Park, their natural habitat, where Andie (Katherine Heigl), the moral compass of squirrels, is pleased to see everyone reunited and living in the park as nature intended.

But all is not well. Just as the creatures are returning to their roots, nasty Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan) realizes that the park is prime real estate which could be generating big bucks if it were converted into an amusement park, and he announces his plans to do just that. Nobody is more joyous than his self-indulgent daughter Heather (Isabela Moner), who can’t stop fantasizing about gorging on cotton candy.

Throughout, she is accompanied by her French Bulldog Frankie (Bobby Cannavale), who is a piece of work in his own right. But then, he has been treated none too kindly by his chubby, pre-pubescent owner. He needs love. Remember the pug Precious? We know where this one is going.

Just to warn the squeamish, there’s some gross-out seduction humor between the pooches involving vomit. It's perhaps a step up compared with the belching and flatulence “comedy” in the film’s first iteration, The Nut Job.

But before any serious canine flirtation can take place, the bulldozers roll into the park and the galvanized animals dive into battle under Surly's leadership. Sadly, they are no match for the construction workers, their menacing equipment and especially the animal exterminators led by the vicious, gaunt and British Gunther (Peter Stormare).

To make matters worse, Precious has been kidnapped by Heather, and Surly has encountered Mr. Feng (Jackie Chen), one tough city mouse who boasts martial-arts skills and wants no truck with Surly or the other now-dispossessed rodents. But eventually, they all join forces to rescue Precious, stop the mayor and save the park.

Returning cast members Arnett, Rudolph and Heigl, along with newbies Moynihan, Cannavale, Moner and Chan, all seem to be having a good time and are convincing enough within the genre’s cartoony limitations. Their paychecks help.

In an effort to amuse the parents, a few adult allusions are thrown into the movie, with characters referencing natural selection, the dark narrative, and the symbolism of small shovels employed by politicos at groundbreaking events. Mr. Feng’s skills are “weapons of mouse destruction.”

These snippets of commentary add nothing and cannot compensate for the singularly dull story or the bloody bashings characters endure as they are hurled against walls, catapulted through the air and flattened by machinery. These images are simultaneously repellent and numbing. Likewise, the nonstop high-decibel volume that’s increasingly commonplace at many movies, though it was especially pronounced at this one, blasting viewers into submission.

At a recent screening filled with toddlers and young children, no one seemed particularly entertained—not that it was easy to read what they felt. They had collectively acquired a round-eyed, glazed stare, and when they weren’t mercifully silent, they shrieked. Even the older kids were unable to modulate their voices. Perhaps they’ve already gone deaf.

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