Founded in June 2008, Toonbox Entertainment is a relatively new animation studio. They’re best known for the short lived animated series Bolts and Blip on Canada’s Teletoon Network, and the 2014 animated film, The Nut Job. Based on director Peter Lepeniotis’s 2005 short film “Surly Squirrel,” The Nut Job‘s terrible writing and over reliance on toilet humor and pop culture references held it back from being anything more than mediocre. Fast forward to three years later, Surly and his friends have returned in The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.
The plot of The Nut Job 2 is relatively simple. The evil mayor of Oakton decides to bulldoze Liberty Park and build a dangerous amusement park, and Surly Squirrel and his ragtag group of animal friends need to band together to save their home. Toonbox Entertainment seems to have listened to critics and made some serious improvements. The Nut Job 2 is still not a masterpiece, but, compared to where they were before, I am quite happy with this product.
The first major improvement on display is a fresh pair of eyes in the director’s chair. Cal Brunker, who also co-wrote the film alongside Bob Barlen, has produced a film with an improvement in animation quality that is night and day over the original. The character designs are cleaner, the speed and the timing are far less clunky, and the backgrounds have a lot more visual flair. Unlike the first film, the characters are written to be less mean spirited. They’re also given much more to do beyond flatulence jokes and nut puns.
The voice cast is a constant positive shared between both Nut Job films. Between this and The LEGO Movie franchise, I continue to be impressed with Will Arnett’s voice acting career. I sometimes even prefer it to his recent live action efforts. The same can definitely be said about Katherine Heigl. She fits in almost too well as Andie, the compassionate, yet overbearing den mother of the Liberty Park animals. Bobby Moynahan, as the evil Mayor of Oakton City, and Isabella Moner, as Heather, the Mayor’s crazy spoiled brat daughter (imagine if the dentist’s daughter from Finding Nemo ate Elmyra Duff from Tiny Toons) are scene stealers in this film. Jackie Chan, as the deceptively cute city mouse Mr. Fang, and Bobby Cannavale, as Frankie, the Mayor’s pet French bulldog and love interest for Maya Rudolph’s Precious, round out this solid team of voice performers.
Despite all the technical improvements, I still can’t call this a cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately, writing is this film’s Achilles heel. The dialogue and characters have gotten better, but the story still suffers from the same problems as a lot of animated films from the early 90s. I’m not talking about the Disney Renaissance. I’m talking about a string of environmental films between 1992-94. They threw good storytelling and subtlety out the window in favor of beating the audience over the head with the same basic message every single time. Additionally, if you thought the Marvel Cinematic Universe was guilty of overusing the “fakeout death” trope, this franchise easily tops them. Granted, it’s not used as often in The Nut Job 2 as compared to the original. The fact that they did it at all still bothered me though.
Finally, I have to praise Heitor Pereira’s music. He once again worked his musical magic composing the score for this film. He has done wonders working on the Despicable Me franchise, and I hope he sticks around for the rest of this franchise (assuming more sequels are on the way).
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature is the first feature film from ToonBox Entertainment that I actually feel comfortable recommending the audience seek out in theaters. Who knows, if these movies continue to improve we could have another beloved animated franchise among the ranks of Toy Story, Shrek, and Despicable Me.
Michael’s Score: 7/10