In the fictional town of Oakton City, a purple squirrel named Surly and his mute rat partner Buddy reside in Liberty Park where their thieving reputation has made them outcasts. A group of urban animals led by Raccoon and his cardinal assistant are running low on food for winter. Red squirrel Andie and gray squirrel Grayson compete with Surly and Buddy to scavenge from a peanut cart manned by Lucky and Fingers who are casing a bank. The squirrels' efforts inadvertently end with the cart's propane tank exploding in the park after its cord was bitten by Lucky's pug Precious. The runaway cart ends up destroying the tree, where the animals store their food. Surly is banished and Buddy goes with him.
In the city, they find Maury's Nut Shop. Adjacent to the bank, it is a criminal hideout used by Lucky, Fingers, their boss Percy "King" Dimpleweed and Knuckles, who plan to break through the wall and replace the bank's cash with nuts. King's girlfriend Lana believes King has gone straight and the nut store is legitimate.
Raccoon sends Andie and Grayson to the city to find food, but they get separated. Andie recovers Lucky's dog whistle, which Knuckles threw out and Surly had used against Precious, and threatens to dispose of it if Surly does not share the nuts he is going to take. Surly accepts and unwittingly befriends Precious after threatening her with the whistle. Andie informs the park community of the plan. Raccoon reluctantly goes with the plan and assigns Mole and the Bruisers to go with her. Surly eventually learns from Mole that Raccoon's policy is to control the food supply in order to control the animals, and that Raccoon plans sabotaging the nut bonanza. When Andie does not believe him, Surly leaves after Grayson reunites with them.
After fending off street rats who work for Raccoon, Surly and Grayson chase the criminal gang's getaway truck, which carries Raccoon and the other animals. Surly fights off Cardinal, and Mole defects from Raccoon and reveals the truth to the animals, resulting in Raccoon being voted out of the park community. King and Knuckles use the dynamite inside the empty truck to blow up a police barricade at a dam, but the police shoots the tire on the truck that falls from the dam. It explodes after Surly gets himself and Andie off it, and they fall into the river below. Surly makes it to a log, but finds Raccoon, King and Knuckles survived the explosion. Raccoon tries to kill Surly, but the nuts' weight begins to break the log. The animals arrive to rescue them, but Surly, deciding to be selfless in order to protect his friends, lets go of the log and falls into the waterfall with Raccoon. The park community now sees the good side of Surly, and mourns him.
The nuts make their way to Liberty Park. King and his associates are arrested as Lana breaks up with King. Andie and Buddy are still mourning over Surly, and when Precious learns what happened, she has Buddy come look at an unconscious Surly near the river. Doleful to see Surly lifeless, Buddy says his first two words: "best friend". Surly wakes up and hugs Buddy. Afterward, Precious leaves to meet Lana, who plans to run Maury's Nut Shop. Finding Surly alive, Andie embraces him and suggests to tell the other animals of his heroism. However, Surly declines, yet gains a willingness to work with others, and goes into the city with Buddy, allowing Grayson to take credit for the nuts making it to the park.
During the credits, the animals and humans dance with an animated Psy as he performs "Gangnam Style".
In a mid-credits scene, Raccoon and Cardinal are shown to have survived their ordeal and are sulking on a harbor buoy surrounded by sharks while coming up with another plan.
In a post-credits scene, Precious chases Mole to get the bone he is holding that she wants and he drives her away with the dog whistle.Will Arnett as Surly, a purple squirrel.
Brendan Fraser as Grayson, an idiotic, glory-hogging squirrel who has a false reputation for being the "park hero".
Gabriel Iglesias as Jimmy, a groundhog and the leader of the Bruisers.
Jeff Dunham as Mole, a mole who works for Raccoon and has eyes that are sensitive to light.
Liam Neeson as Raccoon, a raccoon and the self-proclaimed, deceitful leader of the park.
Katherine Heigl as Andie, a compassionate squirrel who eventually becomes Surly's friend.
Stephen Lang as Percy "King" Dimpleweed, a mob boss.
Maya Rudolph as Precious, a pug that is owned by Lucky.
Sarah Gadon as Lana, King's girlfriend.
James Rankin as Fingers, King's fellow criminal who helps Lucky run "Maury's Nut Shop".
Scott Yaphe as Lucky, the owner of the peanut cart, who is Precious' owner and King's associate.
Joe Pingue as Johnny, a groundhog and a member of the Bruisers.
Annick Obonsawin as Jamie, a small female groundhog and a member of the Bruisers.
Julie Lemieux as a girl scout that tries to buy nuts from Fingers and Lucky's nut cart.
Robert Tinkler as Buddy, a rat and Surly's incompetent partner-in-crime who does not talk much
Robert Tinkler also voices Redline, one of the street rats that is on Raccoon's side.
James Kee as a park rat that idolizes Grayson.
James Kee also voices an armoured guard
Scott McCord as a police officer who tries to get Fingers and Lucky to show them a permit for their nut vending.
Scott McCord also provides the voices of miscellaneous animals.
Katie Griffin as a park pigeon
On January 17, 2011, it was announced that Lorne Cameron would write the screenplay for the film, along with Peter Lepeniotis. On November 15, 2012, it was announced that Katherine Heigl, Will Arnett and Brendan Fraser had joined the cast of the film, and on March 1, 2013, it was announced that Liam Neeson has also joined. On December 19, 2013, it was announced that South Korean entertainer PSY makes a cameo appearance as himself during the film's ending credits, which also feature his hit song "Gangnam Style".
The film's production art was featured in a Brampton, Ontario exhibit.
The film was released in the United States on January 17, 2014, and distributed by Open Road Films. International distribution was handled by The Weinstein Company. The first teaser trailer for the film was released on September 27, 2013. The film had its premiere at a Regal Cinemas theater in Los Angeles on January 11, 2014.
The Nut Job was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 15, 2014, by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 10%, based on 88 reviews, and an average score of 3.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Hampered by an unlikable central character and source material stretched too thin to cover its brief running time, The Nut Job will provoke an allergic reaction in all but the least demanding moviegoers." On Metacritic, which calculates a normalized rating from reviews, the film has an average weighted score of 37 out of 100, based on 28 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a "B" grade, on an A+ to F scale.
Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "The Nut Job comes up short compared with a film like Ratatouille, which, despite its less-than-adorable rodents, won audiences over through appealing voicework and writing." Alonso Duralde of The Wrap wrote, "The Nut Job is merely shrill and frantic, chock-full of uninspired characters and tedious wackiness." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "A whimsical period setting helps this 3D animated caper escape some overly familiar trappings." Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic wrote, "Arnett is a great comedic actor, an acidic wit. But here his Surly is just a selfish jerk. If there weren't some redemption involved, this wouldn't be a by-the-numbers animated feature. But it is, and there is, and it is wholly predictable." Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star gave the film two out of four stars, saying, "If The Nut Job fails to connect through its characters it deserves praise for being a visually inspired effort, with clear homage paid to 1950s animation styles, especially Warner Bros. classics." Chris Cabin of Slant Magazine gave the film one out of four stars, saying, "There's no personality in the design or the script, which only renders the cynical aftertaste of this convoluted one-squirrel-against the-world story all the more potent." Jordan Hoffman of the New York Daily News gave the film two out of five stars, saying, "The cartoon is stuffed with exhausting visual mayhem. Some jokes land, but most kids over 10 will roll their eyes."
Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying, "The burnished backgrounds are pleasant to look at, but finding something to savor in the story is a tough nut to crack." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one out of four stars, saying, "The Nut Job fights its protagonist's own charmlessness from the first scene. Turning a dislikable leading character a little less dislikable by the end credits sets an awfully low bar for this sort of thing." Rafer Guzman of Newsday gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying, "The overall mood resembles a furry, nut-based version of Stanley Kubrick's The Killing." Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film two out of four stars, saying, "Someone spent a lot of time making the architecture and production design match the era. Grandparents getting dragged to The Nut Job will be appreciative." Annlee Ellingson of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The Nut Job features decent CG animation, especially of animals, but the writing isn't particularly clever, relying on obvious puns and slapstick humor." Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post gave the film two out of five stars, saying, "That feeling of been-there-done-that is pervasive, with many of the jokes sounding like they were ripped off from other movies." Kevin McFarland of The A.V. Club gave the film an F, saying, "The most egregious problem with The Nut Job is how shamelessly it fills in the gaps left by expanding Lepeniotis’ short with generic and tedious rogue-to-hero cliché." Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying, "The small-town setting of a half-century ago is beautifully animated by director Peter Lepenotis and his team, and there are some nicely staged old-school action sequences."
Scott Bowles of USA Today gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying, "When the story gets stale, the movie inserts a 'nuts' pun or, worse, resorts to a gas or burp joke. It doesn't work the first time, nor the fifth." Miriam Bale of The New York Times wrote, "The Nut Job features muddy-colored and often ugly animation, a plot that feels too stretched out and loaded with details to hold the attention of most children, and more flatulence jokes than anyone deserves." Adam Nayman of The Globe and Mail gave the film two out of four stars, saying, "Only a multilevel chase sequence involving Surly and some glowing-eyed street rats has any real kinetic excitement, and the supporting characters lack visual distinction." Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying, "The bottom line: Kids may be mildly amused by The Nut Job, but adults accompanying them won't find much to capture their interest." Kimberley Jones of The Austin Chronicle gave the film two out of five stars, saying, "The richly hued CG animation is quite nice – a mix of hyperdetailed character work and painterly cityscapes and pastorals – and the script putters along with small but regular amusements." Tom Russo of The Boston Globe gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying, "The plot doesn’t take clever turns, the visual thrills aren’t all that thrilling, and you’re ultimately left to get your heist-movie kicks elsewhere." Joel Arnold of NPR wrote, "Once Surly and Buddy case the joint, develop a plan, and deal with the inevitable surprises, The Nut Job could be any classic caper flick."
The Nut Job grossed $64,251,541 in North America, and $56,633,986 in other countries, for a worldwide total of $120,885,527. In North America, the film opened at number three in its first weekend, with $19,423,000, behind Ride Along and Lone Survivor. It had the biggest opening weekend ever for an indie animated feature film. In its second weekend, the film stayed at number three, grossing an additional $12,101,118. In its third weekend, the film dropped to number four, grossing $7,278,450, and in its fourth weekend, the film dropped to number eight, grossing $3,753,080.
The Nut Job won the Audience Award for Best Children's Animation at the 2015 Anima: The Brussels Animation Film Festival.
The film was nominated for Best Sound Editing – Feature Film at the 2014 Directors Guild of Canada Awards. Paul Hunter won for The Nut Job in the Best Editing in Animation category at the Canadian Cinema Editors Awards.
The French ATAA awarded the film Best Dubbing Adaptation for an Animated Film for 2015.
The film's score was composed by Paul Intson. The soundtrack was released on January 17, 2014.
On January 23, 2014, The Nut Job 2 was announced, with an initial release date of January 15, 2016. On April 11, 2016, the release date was pushed back to May 19, 2017. Will Arnett, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham, Katherine Heigl and Maya Rudolph reprised their roles. The film details the park animals banding together to prevent a crooked mayor from bulldozing Liberty Park and replacing it with a dangerous amusement park. On May 25, 2016, Heitor Pereira was hired to score the film. On July 5, 2016, Jackie Chan joined the cast as territorial street mouse gang leader Mr. Feng. In December 2016, the film was pushed back to August 11, 2017.