Movie review: 'Nut Job' not that tough to crack

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Winter has finally arrived -- winter movie season, that is.

Most of the holiday standouts are in theaters and it's time for some pictures that are so-so but certainly not of the caliber of "Despicable Me 2" or even "The Croods" from March 2013.

"The Nut Job," capitalizing on famous voices such as Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson and Brendan Fraser who speak for animated animals, boasts a timeless message about teamwork but a labored story about crooks trying to tunnel their way into a bank vault just as Surly Squirrel and his frenemies are looking for food.

'The Nut Job'

Starring: Voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson..

Rating: PG for mild action and rude humor.

For no real reason, other than "Nut Job" is a Korean-Canadian production, it ends with an animated Psy performing his 2012 hit "Gangnam Style," which launched some children out of their seats at a preview so they could dance. Considering the story seems to be set in what could be the 1950s, based on the cars and depiction of the humans, it's both an oddly modern and dated musical touch.

"The Nut Job," being shown in 2-D and 3-D, is about Surly Squirrel (voice of Mr. Arnett), who looks out only for himself. The other residents of his park, graced with oak trees with flaming orange leaves, dutifully share what they find as a raccoon (Mr. Neeson) takes charge of stashing it for the winter.

When, thanks in part to Surly's antics, the animal community's food supply is lost, Surly is banished and sent into the city.

He stumbles upon a paradise of peanuts and other goodies but it's in a storefront that's been taken over by criminals; when the fair-minded squirrel Andie (Ms. Heigl) appears to find food for her friends, she must rethink her assessment of Surly. And he must decide if he can be a team player and friend who doesn't take credit for his heroics.

"The Nut Job," which puts critters and crooks in peril but never rubs anyone out, grew out of an animated short by director Peter Lepeniotis. He populates this comedy with rats -- a loyal one from the park named Buddy and scary city dwellers -- along with other squirrels, groundhogs, pigeons, a mole, a red cardinal who rarely leaves the raccoon's side and a scene-stealing pug.

The animation is bright and the cityscapes faithful to life, making the extra charge for the 3-D unnecessary. The squirm quotient was surprisingly low, perhaps because the criminals (who have names like Lucky and Fingers) play second fiddle to the critters who engage in some double-crossing just like the humans.

"The Nut Job" isn't as funny or sweet as some other family films, but it makes a case for friendship and sharing. It's no "Frozen" but, then again, it was never meant to be.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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