A Good Job for the Nuts in Hollywood
CG film is big, big business. One need only look at the type of profits Pixar and DreamWorks can knock down with a single successful film to recognize the near limitless potential on tap here. Trouble is there are only a few major studios with the budget-backing and distribution clout to turn every CG film out there into the next Shrek or Toy Story.
For the most part independent and modest-budgeted CG pieces generate very small blips on the global radar; brief theatrical runs (if any) and most of the budget-recovering coming in the form of video releases and Netflix licensing.
The Nut Job is one of very few films out there determined to navigate the cracks between an independently produced film and a major theatrical release. Somehow, against all odds, the formula paid dividends. This isn’t to say the viewing experience is without flaw of course, but from a financial stand point, The Nut Job proves the deep pockets of Disney aren’t always required to make a splash in the CG animation pond.
So how exactly did the project come to be? Produced by Gulfstream Pictures, Redrover International and ToonBox Entertainment, it was ultimately released in the United States in January of 2014 by Open Road Films. If this sounds like a lot of hands in the cookie jar, it certainly is. But that’s because production was split between the US with animation duties performed in South Korea. All told the budget comes in at $42.8-million; a fraction of what Pixar usually spends ($200-million) on its feature length CG films of late but over double what LionsGate invested to make the first Alpha and Omega ($20-million).
Even at $42.8 million, it bears the distinction of being the most expensive animated film co-produced in South Korea to date. If that sounds like an awful lot of coin to drop on a CG piece, take comfort. In the end it would gross $64.3 million in North America alone with a worldwide total coming in at $120.9-million. That kind of return is an investor’s dream and it comes as no surprise then that the sequel, titled The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, is scheduled to be released on August 18, 2017 theatrically.
So what’s the film all about? Well it’s certainly nothing new under the CG sun; anthropomorphic critters hustling to prepare for the winter while being functioning members of a society all their own. We’ve seen it before countless times, whether from the likes of Ratatouille, the Open Seasons or perhaps most similarly- DreamWorks’ Over the Hedge.
In this case we follow along the aptly named Surly the Squirrel (Will Arnett) and his mostly-mute sidekick, a rat called Buddy who ends up getting himself banished from the park by his peers – led by an authoritative Raccoon (Liam Neeson). The name of the game is food gathering and, though banished, Surly continues to find himself in situations that demand he think only of himself, the park animals that banished him but rarely both. Fellow squirrel Andie (Katherine Heigl) appears in his exploits several times to further solidify his ultimatum while reiterating the central conflict of the film for viewers who may start to think it’s possible to have one’s cake and eat it too in a city full of nuts.
The pacing is decent and the plentiful gags tolerable throughout though viewers expecting the type of slick storytelling of Pixar or the layered humor of DreamWorks will certainly find the experience pretty flat. Nearly all of the humor here is of the visual, slapstick variety and sadly it feels as though the writers missed many opportunities for genuine cleverness in favor of more straight-forward & lackluster narrative.
Many critics complain that the material is simply too thin to be spread out across an 86-minute run-time and indeed, the story itself does seem to drift to the back-burner so as to allow visual silliness the spotlight. Some light attempts at character development do pay off decently by the end, though.
Perhaps the film’s most ambitious achievement, however, is integrating two parallel stories atop one another- the heist being pulled off by human gangsters in psuedo-1950s noir style and the simultaneous heist the animals are attempting to pull on the gangsters. Like most aspects of this piece, a bit more effort and creativity could have made this progression brilliant but as it stands, it‘s simply another element that neither offends nor shines.
All in all The Nut Job is a fairly harmless and enjoyable visual romp for audiences of all ages that neither takes any chances nor fails remarkably as a result. Rather it plods along with simplistic narrative and a heavy dose of action sequences. It’s greatest achievement by far is the success it managed given the lack of major studio support. It will be interesting to witness how they approach things in the forthcoming sequel.