The_Nut_Job_posterSigh.

If the first computer-animated release of 2014 succeeds in anything, it’s to remind us of how good films like Toy Story and the first few Shrek movies really are. That’s about it. In fact, that’s it entirely. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare every movie in this genre with the finest that Pixar and DreamWorks have to offer. Well, too bad.

The Nut Job follows the story of Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), an annoying purple squirrel anti-hero who, even at the movie’s opening, is something of a pariah to the other critters who live with him in the park in the fictional town of Oakton in the early part of the 20th century. At least, it looks like that’s when it’s set but it’s confusing because the makers insist on putting two, yes two, Gangnam Style gags in there.

Surly is a pariah because he steals the food from the others. And he’s pretty annoying. When he tries to usurp the annoying red squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl has never sounded more Peggy Bundy) and the über-annoying grey squirrel Grayson (Brendan Fraser who seemingly is still alive) in their attempt to nick some nuts from a peanut cart, he inadvertently causes the destruction of the park’s big tree and is therefore banished by the park’s leader, a hugely annoying raccoon named Raccoon (voiced by Liam “I’ll Put My Name to Anything” Neeson). You wouldn’t think a pariah would take this so badly, but he does. With his not-particularly-annoying sidekick, he takes to the town and finds a nut factory across the street from a bank, which he tries to infiltrate in order to steal an awful lot of nuts. In a semi-interesting twist, the human occupants of the nut factory are actually planning a heist of their own, their target being the aforementioned bank across the street. Meanwhile, with a hungry park to feed, Andie and Grayson are sent into town to find food, much like the banished one, except they can return as heroes. Annoying heroes. Paths are crossed. Blah-blah-blah.

The mirror of human life and animal life working concurrently towards different, although similar, goals is pretty much all the deceptively long running time of 86 minutes has to offer. In a packed holiday movie theatre, the laughs were so thin on the ground that I was able to fall asleep twice. The kids didn’t laugh at all as far as I can remember but they had about as much trouble as I did keeping their eyes open.

Computer-animated movies can’t just get away with having stunning visuals, and to be honest, that’s been the case for a number of years. As technology advances, even rubbish movies like this one can look utterly incredible. But these days, it really needs a story to back it all up and this is where The Nut Job falls flat on its chubby-cheeked face. The farcical dual-heist element is so thin it barely manages to cover the running time and with no truly heroic character to hang one’s interest on, it becomes such a tedious affair that sleep really is the only option.

It’s a poor offering and it doesn’t even have the good grace to be poor enough to be interesting.

Sigh.

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