This site's raison d'etre is kind of existentially dark: everything you read here is part of an on going attempt to make peace between my need to consume a lot of media and my growing feeling that a life of passive consumption is a wasted life. I can't know for sure who all is in my audience, but I'm guessing that the sort of people that are interested in the opinions of a man who is coming from that sort of complicated place are not the sort of people that are likely to watch the Nut Job, which is a movie about cartoon squirrels that are trying to break into a nut store to steal all their peanuts. As such, I feel free to spoil the hell out of this movie.
The most interesting aspect of the movie - and by "most" I actually mean "only" - is that it is revealed towards the end that the leader of all the animals in the park (a raccoon voiced by Liam Neeson) is a Machiavellian schemer. He was purposefully withholding food from his hungry constituents so that he could solidify his power over them. On the one hand, it's a motivation that makes sense and makes him a more interesting character, but on the other hand, why in the hell does a movie about talking woodland creatures feature such a Nixonian monster?
I suppose it wouldn't have struck me as being so odd if the first half of the movie hadn't been so dumb, but the early going was mostly puns based on the word "nuts" and fart jokes, so when the film took a turn towards complexity towards the end it seemed completely out of place. But it was also troubling to me because it gave the movie a cynical tone that I'm not sure I like in a kid's movie. Realizing that the people in power are not automatically good people is an important part of maturing, but there's a time and a place for that sort of discovery, and I'm not sure that it's "when you're young enough to want to see a movie about a farting squirrel."
I don't want to blow this out of proportion; I'm sure that most kids who see this are going to forget it immediately, so treating it as if it was going to indoctrinate kids into realpolitik is a little absurd. But I do see a growing cynicism in our culture, one that's been growing louder and louder the longer the recession goes on, which insists that not only are things broken but they are permanently broken. I don't like the idea of that cynicism creeping into children's entertainment, because raising a generation of pessimists seems like it would be problematic in a whole host of ways; disenfranchisement is the first step to stopping potential reforms. But then again, maybe a generation that's been raised on the idea that the wizard is just a greedy man behind a curtain would be more prepared to tackle the sweeping reforms that the system seems to need; maybe a generation raised with no love or respect for our political institutions would be less squeamish about cutting out the cancers, and that might be what the doctor ordered. Or maybe this is a movie about hungry woodland animals falling face first into stuff, and I should stop overthinking it.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all of those things. We might interact with specific pieces of culture, but what lingers is the generalized impressions that all of those things make when put together. By it's own, one Machiavellian raccoon doesn't matter, and would easily be wiped from a kid's mind by some other more age appropriate characters. But if you put that Machiavellian raccoon in front of them and then also a bunch of other characters that are also corrupt schemers you would start to engender in them an idea that the world is hopelessly crooked. There are probably pluses and minuses to teaching kids that lesson, and I can't quite wrap my mind around whether the pluses outnumber the minuses or not. But I can wrap my mind around this thought: any kids movie with this many fart jokes is not going to be my bag.
Winner: The Cat