But Surly's caper runs right up against what the human owners of the nut shop have in mind. They're wise guys out to rob the bank across the street. The animals, with Surly's grudging cooperation, must race the robbers to see who can pull off his heist first.
The sight gags have a marvelous thunder-clap suddenness to them. Yeah, we can see the squirrel smacked against the windshield stuff coming. But animated movies live and die on their pace, and this one clips along.
The one-liners aren't the best -- "Is that mange, or Bubonic Plague you're wearing?" But there are just enough of them to get by.
Visual riffs on cops and donuts, the poor choice of pug as guard dog (Maya Rudolph), a violently testy Girl Scout and plenty of "throw nuts and squirrels at the 3-D screen" jokes make "The Nut Job" kid-friendly.
And if that fails to do the trick, throw in a few cut-the-cheese jokes. Yeah, groundhogs are flatulent.
Veteran animator Peter Lepeniotis, a Pixar vet expanding a short film he made years ago, ensures that the animation is quite good. And there's an adorable closing credits dance-off that underlines the film's Korean production lineage.
So no, it's not Pixar or DreamWorks or Disney or Blue Sky. But "The Nut Job" is still better than any animated film released in the doldrums of January has a right to be.
Rating: PG for mild action and rude humor
Cast: Voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph and Liam Neeson
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes