The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature is a sequel to 2014’s The Nut Job, an animated comedy that rehashed well-worn ideas from Pixar films like Ratatouille, Up, and Finding Nemo, while convincing stars like Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, and Liam Neeson to waste their talents on subpar product. The Nut Job 2 follows roughly the same formula, which, despite its many deficiencies, apparently worked well enough the first time around for parents who wanted something to occupy their kids for an hour and change.
After all, both movies are filled with virtually nonstop slapstick humor and a gratuitous number of jokes regarding the word “nuts.” But, apart from a crazed finale on top of a hot-air balloon and a few inspired bits of animation, The Nut Job 2 fails to deliver anything that could be called inspired or original. It also fails to add anything new to the flimsy message preached by its predecessor, which, in a nutshell (pun intended), is that sometimes it’s okay to work together. Surly (voice of Will Arnett), a self-centered squirrel used to looking out for himself, already learned that lesson by the end of the first film, but it would appear that even the most important lessons need to be reinforced occasionally.
Other characters returning for the sequel include Andie (Katherine Heigl), Surly’s female love interest and would-be moral compass; Precious (Maya Rudolph), a docile pug who befriended Surly in the first film; and the whole gang of groundhogs and moles that occupy the small animal community of Liberty Park. Newcomers include Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan), the leader of a gang of “city mice” well-versed in karate; and Frankie (Bobby Cannavale), a dim-witted bulldog who finds his ideal mate in Precious.
However, neither of these characters are enough to make The Nut Job 2 enjoyable or worthwhile in any way. Making matters worse, the movie seems determined to make every human character—from young children to everyday workers to the evil Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan)—so obnoxious and contemptible that the story often plays like an indictment of all of mankind. Animated films about talking animals all the way back to Bambi have reveled in exposing humanity’s faults, but the people here veer toward the misanthropic.
This is a clear ploy to make the animal characters, who run the gamut from boring to unlikable, seem preferable to their human counterparts, as the latter will apparently stop at nothing until Surly and his friends are dead and their beloved home is destroyed to make room for a death trap of an amusement park. But while easily amused kids might get caught up in the bursts of zany action and half-hearted stabs at humor (at least for a little while), others are bound to walk away disappointed or even disgusted. Even most elementary-age kids, presumably the film’s target audience, would likely be happier doing just about anything else.