The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature—because 2017 kids are totally into early ’90s hip-hop to get that reference—contains a midpoint scene where an affably dumb Italian stereotype pug named Frankie (Bobby Cannavale) regurgitates his food as a romantic gesture for his crush, Precious (Maya Rudolph), the totally memorable headstrong pug from the first film. As far as finding an apt metaphor for a movie within the same movie you’re watching, you don’t get any better than that. The Nut Job 2 is nothing but a slushy regurgitation of every piece of animated family hit within the last two decades or so.
With head-slappingly dull archetypal characters, a throwaway plot that would have been rejected as too overdone for a ’90s Saturday morning cartoon, and a last-minute scramble to add some sort of a thematic lesson—that’s straight up read out loud by the protagonist at the end—this 90-minutes-long random assortment of tired slapstick comedy tries to resemble the ghost of a cohesive feature. Too bad it doesn’t have a single original nut in its shell. Unless you’re Charlie Kauffman from Adaptation or an insufferable screenwriting purist, most films are written with computers. The Nut Job 2 is the rare example of a movie that feels as if it was written by a computer. Some suit ordained that the first Nut Job, which I guess was enough of a hit thanks to a last-minute cynical addition of a CGI Psy in the end credits, shall suffer from a sequel, so a bunch of data from better animated family entertainment was fed into the Cashgrabaton 3000 and this is what plopped out.
When we last saw the rebellious yet conveniently lovable squirrel Surly (Will Arnett), he had taken over the nut shop across the way from the park his kind call home. At the beginning of The Nut Job 2, Surly and his friends live in nut heaven, an underground speakeasy full of gambling and unchecked hedonism. You know, totally appropriate material for kids’ entertainment. However, Surly’s run on easy street lasts literally five minutes of screen time, since the shop blows up due to Convenient Plot Point #1. Surly is now forced to scrounge for food, which pleases his squirrel naturalist girlfriend Andie (Katherine Heigl), who wants her kind to go back to their roots. But things are not that simple, since a money-grubbing mayor (Bobby Moynihan), who’d be deemed too cartoonishly evil by a 1950s line-up of Looney Tunes characters, decides to tear Surly’s home down in order to open the world’s shadiest amusement park.
Will Surly and the gang fight the construction crew with bare minimum cartoon shenanigans set to “Born to be Wild”? Side note: That’s not a joke to point out how creatively bankrupt The Nut Job 2 is—the song is used twice, in 2017, to support action sequences without a hint of irony. Will the gang hit upon a contrived roadblock in their mission so that the screenplay can officially claim that it contains a second act break? Will Surly’s lazily fabricated selfish streak, completely ignoring his character arc from the first film, be used as an excuse to have him suddenly realize the importance of teamwork so the third act will provide the contractually obligated over-the-top action climax? I swear the writers straight up played Mad Libs while writing the ending, there’s no other way you end up with a showdown on top of a hot air balloon in a movie that takes place in a tiny neighborhood park. And most importantly, will Precious learn to love Frankie, who, I must remind you, loves eating other dogs’ puke, as well as his own?
The returning set of characters from the first installment are carbon copies of Pixar and Dreamworks line-ups, but they are the bastions of originality when compared to the new characters that The Nut Job 2 throws at us. The mayor’s psychotically entitled brat daughter, voiced by Isabella Moner, is a grotesque love child of Sid from Toy Story and Darla from Finding Nemo. A kung-fu master city mouse voiced by Jackie Chan is a direct rip-off of the one note “cute but fierce” rabbit from The Secret Life of Pets. (When you’re relegated to stealing from a piece of mediocrity like the latter, it might be time to call it quits.)
The Nut Job 2 actually contains some impressive animation, with photorealistic backgrounds and detailed fur dynamics on the characters, but that makes it an even bigger tragedy, since we know that untold hours were spent by artists in service of a product that even the least discerning child would find tired and useless.
Director: Cal Brunker
Writers: Cal Brunker, Bob Barlen, Scott Bindley
Starring: Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph, Jackie Chan, Isabela Moner, Peter Stormare, Bobby Cannavale, Bobby Moynihan, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias
Release Date: August 11, 2017
Oktay Ege Kozak is a screenwriter, script coach and film critic. He works as a reader for some of the leading screenplay coverage companies in Hollywood, and is also a film critic for The Playlist, DVD Talk and Beyazperde. He has a BA in Film Theory and an MFA in Screenwriting. He lives near Portland, Ore., with his wife, daughter and two King Charles Spaniels.