You never know where you’re going to find the most radical ideas. A sub-par animated film sequel intended to quiet the kids for a few hours on a weekend afternoon burns with a proletarian rage. You’d never expect that from “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” but somehow, it’s true.
First, a warning about truth (or lack thereof) in advertising. In “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” there is no job that involves nuts, as promised by the title. The first “Nut Job” may have involved a nut heist, and the city-dwelling rodents around whom the story revolves may indeed be described as “nutty by nature,” in reference to their predilection for the crunchy, protein-packed treats, but most of the nut-related content of this film falls only in the first few minutes. These moments are a celebration of the nut-based life, as Surly the Squirrel (Will Arnett) and his rodent pals enjoy a Dionysian feast of nuts, seeds and legumes in the basement of a closed Nut Shop.
This plentiful abundance of free food, however, is all too easy, and soon, the entire shop has been blown to smithereens, the result of an errant boiler valve. At any rate, the moral of “The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature” is that there is very little value in “easy” — no hard work, no character building, no wild animal instincts. This is the ethos espoused by the finger-wagging nag of a squirrel Andie (Katherine Heigl), who is opposed to Surly’s grifter tendencies. Alas, in the wake of the Nut Shop explosion, it’s back to the scrounge ’n’ gather way of life for Surly and pals, if that way of life even exists anymore.
“The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” directed and co-written by Cal Brunker, is a searing indictment of capitalistic government corruption, embodied by the cravenly criminal Mayor of Oakton City (Bobby Moynihan). In seeking to wring every drop of profit from his province, he destroys and develops the city park where these rodents enjoy a collective lifestyle, in order to build an amusement park, Liberty Land, a monument to crass consumerism and cutting corners. When the rodents resist this development, the Mayor unleashes exterminators to violently suppress the uprising.
That’s not the only communist element of the film — just wait until you see the army of kung fu-trained Chinese mice, led by the furry, ferocious Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan), who join the rodent insurgents in their rebellion against their greedy human oppressors. They too have been driven from their park, now a golf course. The most terrifyingly sadistic villain happens to be Heather (Isabela Moner), the Mayor’s daughter, a fiery-haired bourgeois demon in a small child’s body; a Veruca Salt with a tranquilizer dart gun.
This is a film of excesses and extremes. From the orgiastic festival of nuts that the film opens with, to the violent, carnivalesque mayhem that it descends into, “Nutty by Nature” is a relentless melee. It’s a tornado of whirling dervish rodents battling ham-fisted humans over the sanctity of their land, which has been turned from a verdant paradise into a dark and hellish landscape of repurposed goods and shoddy craftsmanship, intended to drop every excess dollar in the Mayor’s pocket. It’s an unexpectedly radical, if otherwise rather rote animated sequel.
‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature’
Rating: PG for action and some rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: In general release