Boy, there sure are a lot of talking animal cartoon movies these days, huh? Barely a month passes between these things anymore, and unless Pixar or Illumination is involved, they tend to run the gamut from mediocre to miserable with little variation. The new addition to this endless genre is ‘Storks’. It’s about those storks that deliver babies to parents. The only surprise is that it took this long for one of the big animation studios to crank out a movie based on that premise.
You can pretty easily guess what this movie will be without even watching a trailer and you’ll be right. It’s not very good, but thanks to employing an actual comedy filmmaker, it has some laughs. ‘Norm of the North’ this ain’t. I suppose that counts for something.
‘Storks’ obviously plays off that old sex-talk-fearing lie that parents used to tell their children about babies being delivered by storks. (It’s never been clear how visible pregnancy played into that myth, but I digress.) At the start of the film, a gang of storks who used to proudly make parents have long since retired from the baby business and now deliver for cornerstore.com, a loosey-goosey Amazon parody. The business is run by Kelsey Grammer’s screamy boss bird who promises to promote our plucky stork lead, Junior (Andy Samberg), provided that he fire the company’s only human and most accident prone employee, Tulip (Katie Crown). Junior’s not too keen on the idea and soon ends up in a bit of trouble when Tulip fires up the old baby-making machine and cranks out an infant in response to a letter from a young boy (Anton Starkman) whose parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) are too busy with work to provide a sibling. That means that Junior and Tulip have to secretly deliver the baby to avoid getting fired. Obviously, many things go wrong, leading to a variety of comedic digressions.
Surprisingly, ‘Storks’ packs in far more successful gags than this type of film tends to. It certainly doesn’t hurt that writing and co-directing duties come from Nicholas Stoller (‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’, ‘Neighbors’, ‘The Muppets’), who knows a thing or two about comedy and actually delivers some big belly laughs. He’s using a premise that feels ripped from the old Warner Bros. cartoons that share this flick’s label. (In fact, storks accidentally delivering babies was a common old WB cartoon premise, usually involving a drunken bird who messed up. Of course, that wouldn’t fly anymore.) Stoller assembles a strong voice cast of actors and comedians and gets them to deliver, then has his animation team serve up big heapings of slapstick. The movie has some hysterical passages (especially those involving baby-hungry wolves and baby-loving penguins), but is ultimately dragged down by formula.
For Stoller and his team to get to any decent set-piece, they first have to stop off in “Sentimental Screenwriting 101” land. There’s the usual tedious tale of an unconventional family forming out of a gang of misfits, as well as the clichéd lesson about how workaholic parents need to spend more time with their kids. That means any time the movie slows down long enough to tell the story, groaner sentimental music plays and characters learn lessons loudly. It’s rough stuff, but at least Stoller keeps that to a minimum. Unfortunately, the filmmakers’ pandering approach to kiddie comedy is frequently just as annoying. This is a more-is-more, joke-centric kind of movie. Lines and pratfalls pile up by the second and rarely are they particularly strong. Enough hit for the movie to land in the win column, but not enough to avoid annoying and alienating many viewers through sensory overload.
Ultimately, ‘Storks’ is a pleasant timewaster, but it pales in comparison to the last feature released by Warner Bros.’ new animation wing, ‘The Lego Movie’. This isn’t nearly as inventive or exciting. However, it’s nice to see the studio focus on bringing established comedic talent into the world of animation. That led to Storks being far funnier than it should have been, even if the devotion to cuddly family formula and the “quantity over quality” approach to gags eventually drags the whole thing down.
The good news is that families who flock to ‘Storks’ will at least get a few chuckles. The bad news is that they likely won’t remember anything else about the movie the next day.