Film Review: StorksThe jokes in this high-concept, star-packed animated family film land about as often as its storks manage to avoid flying into windows.
There are a few, ahem, animating principles behind Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland’s antic venture into the increasingly crowded family-flick field. One is that all babies have identical, Precious Moments figurine-size giant eyes which cause everyone with a good sightline to fall into a trancelike state of “Awww.” Another is that making babies in an actual factory is not creepy at all. Also, talking animals getting dinged on the head is hilarious. Lastly, children truly want to see a story whose main character is undergoing a crisis about getting a promotion at his online shipping company. Yes, Storks is the decade’s first, but potentially not last, animated film about dotcom supply-chain management. You know, for kids!
Once you get past an origin story that is both overdone and yet not quite explained, Storks can occasionally snap off a halfway decent gag. But before we get there, first to contend with is Stoller’s formulation of a universe in which all storks actually were once in charge of delivering babies to families. But almost two decades ago, the boss stork Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) decided that there wasn’t enough margin in depositing carefully swaddled infants on doorsteps and started a parcel-delivery business called Cornerstore.com.
When our story opens, the storks have moved from the fairytale baby factory that sits high atop Stork Mountain into a perilously suspended factory that looks like a massive shipping container. There, amidst the thrumming bustle of the Amazon.com-like avian distribution center, Junior (Andy Samberg) is hustling for that big promotion which he thinks Hunter is about to give him. Junior is right, but there’s a catch: To get the job, he has to fire their one human employee, a clumsy and accident-prone teenager named Orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) who never got delivered to her parents 18 years ago. Of course, the warm-hearted Junior can’t bring himself to do it, and buries Tulip (who doesn’t care for the nickname since, as she says, “‘Orphan’ hurts my heart”) in a dead-end job answering letter requests for babies that, of course, don’t come anymore.
In order to get Junior and Tulip out on the madcap adventure that provides the filmmakers some excuses for things to fly around and occasionally smash into other things, a second plot is then levered with a painfully earnest seriousness into the proceedings. Only child Nate (Anton Starkman) is tired of being left to fend for himself while his parents, husband-and-wife realtors Henry (Ty Burrell) and Sarah (Jennifer Aniston), work, and so he does the obvious thing: send away a dusty old request letter to Stork Mountain so that he can finally have a sibling. That’s when the Rube Goldberg machinery spins up. Following that is a busy but tired-feeling film mostly made up of chases and rigidly formulaic sessions of emotional manipulation and makeshift family construction.
Storks doesn’t appear able to decide what kind of story it wants to be and so covers all bets. It traffics heavily in the desperately madcap bing-bang-boom of the Ice Age films, staggered with second-hand familial bonding straight of out a lower-tier Pixar effort. Stoller aims here and there for a vaguely snarky tone that’s meant to keep parents happy but only undercuts the rest of the story’s seriousness. He also ensures that there are enough whacks on the head and the strategic placement of comic-relief beats—particularly the gratingly unfunny Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman), whose repertoire is mostly composed of saying “Cool, bra”—to make sure that the kids are cackling. Every so often, a bit connects on all levels, like the fight scene in which Junior and Tulip do battle with some nasty penguins in near-complete silence so as not to wake up a baby. But those moments don’t arrive nearly often enough.
The mixture of high-concept story, more complicated than it’s worth, and mechanical story beats ensures that very little of this film gets delivered to where it’s supposed to go.
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