A movie stuffed with squirrels behaving badly, “The Nut Job” dilutes its kid-friendly message of working together to get things done by stuffing its cast full of fuzzy animals that are pretty mean to each other for nearly the entire length of the movie. Set in a vaguely 1940s-era urban landscape (the one thing I did enjoy), the movie opens on the denizens of a park worrying about having enough food for the winter. Raccoon (Liam Neeson), the park elder, advises everyone to search for rations that only he can dole out, but Surly (Will Arnett) is a lone wolf, er, squirrel who looks out for Numero Uno. He stumbles upon a nearby nut shop run by mobsters using it as a front to case the bank next door.
Surly spends most of the movie scheming ways to take all the nuts for himself. It’s never established that he lives anywhere but atop a telephone pole, so one wonders where he’d hide his bounty from fellow squirrels Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser).
Surly spits insults at everyone in the movie, including his supposed best friend Buddy, whom he chides for his disability (the rat can’t speak). The characters in this movie spend so much time being distrustful and spiteful to one another; there are no small lessons learned along the way, so that when the big message moment comes in at the end, it falls flat.
“The Nut Job” isn’t the best movie for kids right now. Nor will it be next week. It rewards and encourages bad behavior, and isn’t funny. The 3D effects are unnecessarily and ineffective. Want a great movie to see with the kids? The Oscar nominations were just announced, so you have five great choices, one of which, “Frozen,” is still in theaters. Two more are on home video ("The Croods" and "Despicable Me 2"), and two more ("The Wind Rises" and "Ernest & Celestine") are coming to theaters in America soon.