Loud, bright, and hollow, Cal Brunker’s The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature is, if nothing else, a marked improvement over 2014’s dire The Nut Job, a lazily written and cruddily animated heist comedy that doesn’t lack for “nut” puns. With its swiftly paced script and jokey, devil-may-care tone, the sequel keeps the energy up while avoiding the cutesy sentimentality of so many kids’ movies. While the dialogue is a fairly witless combination of third-hand one-liners and winking meta-jokes, the game voice cast manages to wring some chuckles out of their one-joke characters, including Jackie Chan as a murine martial-arts master, Bobby Moynihan as a joyfully immoral mayor, and Maya Rudolph and Bobby Cannavale as a pair of tough-talking pugs in love.
Though it may clear the low bar set by the first film, The Nut Job 2 still suffers from many of the same problems: underwritten characters, slack comic timing, and relatively low-rent animation that, while much improved this time around, looks shoddy in comparison to the likes of Cars 3, Zootopia, and Trolls. The premise is run-of-the-mill kiddie-movie fare: Surly (Will Arnett), the inexplicably purple squirrel hero of the first movie, leads the animals of Liberty Park in a revolt against the city’s evil mayor (Moynihan), who wants to demolish this quiet patch of nature and put up an amusement park.
The Nut Job 2’s episodic plot is little more than a clothesline on which to hang manic action sequences, which, despite a few sparks of inventiveness—a battle atop a hot-air balloon, a group of kung fu-fighting mice forming a human-sized warrior by inhabiting an empty hazmat suit—are ultimately a repetitive succession of swooping, running, diving, and driving. Tedium quickly sets in, followed by frustration over a franchise, in failing to offer a unique spin on the kiddie-film formula, having found no reason for its own existence.