Thursday, January 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Nut Job


This weekend, I decided to take a night off from politicking and writing. I planned a nice evening out that included seeing a harmless, mindless, just for fun movie. With that in mind, I went to see The Nut Job, an animated children’s movie about woodland creatures searching for nuts in the big city.

Within the first five minutes, I realized that this movie had a very specific agenda, and it was likely not one that I was going to appreciate. The film is set in a city in autumn and the woodland creatures inhabiting the City Park are anxiously monitoring their food supply. The animals all give their food to the leader of their community, Raccoon, who then distributes it evenly.

Enter Surly, a character whose very name illustrates how the audience is meant to perceive him. Surly does not like working with the rest of the community. He is independent and innovative, determined to procure enough nuts for his friend Buddy and himself to survive the winter. The rest of the Park community perceives Surly as a troublemaker and an outlaw. The only real crime that they assign to him, however, is that he does not work well with others and does not share the food he procures with the community at large.

While Surly is attempting to pull off his heist of a nut cart, two government operatives, Andie and Grayson, arrive at the same cart with the same intention. It is Surly, however, who manages to steal the cart and all of the nuts it contains. Andie immediately tries to take all of the nuts back to Raccoon, so that they can be shared among everyone. Surly resists, which results in a struggle that causes the cart to catch fire and careen into the remaining food supply of the Park, destroying it.

Let me pause for a moment to outline the lesson this scene is showing. Innovative problem solving is disruptive if the entire community doesn’t have input. When innovation does work out, it is the duty of the successful individual to share his profit with his entire community. By not doing this, he will bring havoc and ruin to the community.

Now, the movie turns to the other side of the coin; the evils of big government. Raccoon tells the townsfolk that they must banish Surly, even though banishment without trial is against the rules of the Park. When the citizens protest, he scolds them for their hesitation, inflaming a mob mentality that chases Surly from the Park. Andie protests at this violation of law, but then bows to the pressure of Raccoon like the others.

Although Andie votes in favor of banishment without a trial, she apologizes to Surly, saying she knows what was done to him was wrong. In the previous scene, Andie had called Surly a coward for not risking his life to save the burning nuts. Personally, I would think that allowing a member of one’s community to be unjustly banished is even more cowardly, but the authors of this film must disagree, since they never address the wrongness of Andie’s actions.

Now banished, Surly moves on to a new, more ambitious nut heist. Once again, Andie stumbles across him and insists that he involve the community in his plan and share. The inhabitants of the Park are hungry, she argues, and if Surly helps them get food, they will likely repeal his banishment. Let me rephrase that in fifth-grade-bully language: “If you give me your lunch, I won’t throw spitballs at you in class”.

Confident in his ability to procure his own food, Surly declines. He does not wish ill on the community; he is just going to remain separate from them. He’ll get his own food, they need not worry about his share. Neither will he give a share of his food to them. Meanwhile, the guard dog of the nut shop (a pug!) is chasing after Surly. Andie now has a better bargaining strategy and does not hesitate to use it. Work with the rest of the community and share the nuts or I’ll let the pug eat you. Remember, folks, Andie is considered one of the main protagonists. She is not doing anything that should be seen as evil, just what is necessary for the survival of the Park.

Andie believes in teamwork and cooperation for the greater good above all other goals. Unfortunately, not all members of the Park government feel that way. At this point in the film, it is revealed that Raccoon is twisting the ideas of community spirit to enhance his own power and control. He wants to double-cross Surly and sabotage the heist at the nut store. His chilling logic is that “Animals are controlled by the amount of food they have. It is our duty to keep it from them”. To this end, Raccoon engages in violent sabotage tactics, including assassination attempts (which fail because, yes, this is a children’s movie).

In the final scenes of the movie, Surly sacrifices himself and risks his life to defend the rest of the Park citizens against Raccoon. Upon his miraculous return, Andie wants to take Surly back to the Park so that he can be lauded as a hero. Surly refuses, saying that he didn’t save the Park; the team did. While it is true that it was a team effort, Surly clearly did the brunt of the work, and he was the only one who leapt over a waterfall to stop Raccoon. Andie seems to admire this decision, however, and then asks him what he plans to do next. Surly says that he is going to continue to find food for the Park, but from now on, will do it with the help of others.

It is clear that this line is meant to show that Surly has learned his lesson. But what lesson did he learn? He came up with the plan to steal the nuts and the only assistance he required was that of his chosen friends. The “help” provided by the Park community only caused more work and nearly got him killed.

The message of the film and of Surly’s transformation from outcast to good member of the community is clearly illustrated in the opening and closing lines. Surly begins the story by telling the audience, “They say life is there for the taking”. As the screen begins to fade to black 85 minutes later, he adds to this original statement: “They say life is there for the taking, but really, it’s there for the sharing”.

This film is promoting equality in its most vicious and debilitating form. All of the characters are generally of the same social standing; they are members of the Park community. The characters who strive to vary from this pattern are not meant to be admired. Surly thinks outside the box and works on his own. This is considered bad behaviour and throughout the course of the movie, he learns that he would be better off being a team player and sharing his earnings without seeking recognition. Raccoon wants to rule over everyone and is prepared to maintain his control through violence. When he is chased out of the park for his misdeeds, there is no mention as to who will take his place as head of the community; there seems to be no need for such a role.

These are the sort of lessons our children are learning from the entertainment world. In short, it is scary. We are teaching our future generation that it is more important to be part of a group than to be innovative. Somehow, I think that the great thinkers, leaders, artists, and inventors of our world would not have made it very far had they followed that advice.
(In short- Go see Frozen.)

**Note- This article is cross-posted on Watchdog Wire at:


  1. Wow! I'm glad my kids are all grown up! Great review.