Animated children’s movies with talking animals are a dime a dozen, and The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature does little to rise above the average offering. While this is ostensibly a sequel, several of the characters from the first film are not present and no mention is made of those events after the first few minutes. The film opens in the basement of a long-shuttered nut shop, and Surly (Will Arnett), a squirrel who leads a ragtag band of animals from a local park including: the rat Buddy (Tom Kenny), Surly’s childhood best friend who never speaks; Precious (Maya Rudolph), a good-natured pug; Andie (Katherine Heigl), an anxious female squirrel; and several other animals of various species. They are in food heaven, surrounded by more nuts than they could possibly consume over their lifetimes. Only Andie is disconcerted by this, worried that without the challenges of normal life, they will lose their instincts and be left helpless if the nut hoard is destroyed.
Unsurprisingly, within the first fifteen minutes of the film, the shop—and the nuts—go up in flames and the animals are left to fend for themselves. They return to the park where they used to live to try to rediscover their old ways. Unfortunately, the local Mayor (Bobby Moynihan) has plans to pave over the green spaces with a shoddily constructed amusement park to bring in more money. When faced with this new danger, Surly convinces everyone to defend their park no matter what the cost.
The voice acting in The Nut Job 2 is good, but even the best actors can only do so much. Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph are delightful and their interactions are among the best scenes in the movie. Jackie Chan’s part as a mouse Kung Fu master is small and his character is flat and stereotypical, but as usual Chan uses his deadpan style to take what is there and make it work for him. Katherine Heigl’s Andie is yet another version of a role that Heigl often gets, the responsible—and bland—obligatory female character. Andie is the sensible one who plans for the future, plays the caretaker, and nudges everyone into doing the right thing. Heigl is good at it, but it’s a tiresome trope that the film uses to its detriment.
The Nut Job 2 tries to send the messages of most family films, such as the importance of friends and that the good guys always overcome their challenges, but it never invests in any of these stories. Instead it lurches from one plot point to another like a drunk person trying to find the bathroom, skipping over any kind of development in favor of silly action scenes and easy gags. Intermittently the film affects a self-aware tone that clashes with the sincerity that is present throughout the rest of it. While The Nut Job 2 had some good performances, the rest of the film is definitely not worth saving for the winter.