Release Date: September 23, 2016
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directors: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland
Release Format: Theatrical
On paper, Storks seems like a movie destined for mediocrity. From it’s generic “name of animal” title to its route “what you didn’t know about *childhood legend” premise. Birds in business suits, been there, seen that. In fact, It all seems very Bee Movie-ish, minus Jerry Seinfeld’s strange sense of humor to make it a cult classic. That said, it has an animation team hot off The Lego Movie and a seasoned comedy director in Nicholas Stoller. So what happens when a whole lot of unoriginality and a group of creative and funny craftsmen make a baby?
The story lands in a world where storks have turned their baby factory into an amazon.com style shipping warehouse. Junior (Andy Samberg) has ambitions of climbing the cooperate ladder and is one task away from getting to the top. Hunter (Kelsey Grammar), the big bird in charge, tasks Junior with getting rid of adult human orphan Tulip (Katie Crown). However, Junior can’t be a heartless monster because then we wouldn’t have a movie. He puts her into the mail room, which is just as well because storks don’t receive baby letters anymore. That is until precocious young boy Nate Gardner (Anton Starkman) decides to send one anyway. That letter winds up in Tulip’s hands, she makes the baby, and Junior and Tulip find themselves on the run.
Warner Brothers animation is very clearly trying to style all of their films in the vein of The Lego Movie. We’ve got a mix of Phil Lord/Chris Miller style meta humor, along with manic Looney Tunes animation. There is hardly a moment in this movie where it isn’t flying by at a hundred miles an hour. There are no rules. Characters contort themselves in wild ways, the “camera” is constantly moving, and jokes are spewing out every half second. Fortunately, the majority of these jokes land. The film’s strongest moments come when it really leans into the visual humor. When Junior and Tulip are being thrown around in the action sequences, we feel their pain as they get hurt. This isn’t the light, bouncy physical humor of an Illumination Film. Storks is cruel to its characters and it is all the funnier for it.
The voice cast completely throw themselves into the films over the top tone. Samberg is essentially a cartoon already, his voice fitting the hyperactive Junior perfectly. He and Crown play off each other very nicely. However, sometimes the writing has nothing for them to do besides yell back and forth. Jennifer Anniston and Ty Burell have some nice moments as Nate’s overworked parents, but that whole storyline is a bit undercooked. Grammar makes for an effective villain but is not in the movie nearly enough. Most of his screentime goes to an obnoxious character by the name of Pigeon Toady. The movie constantly cuts to this irritating catchphrase dispenser that feels like a character created in the “show stealer” generator. While they’re a bit too hyperactive to be genuinely likable, these characters keep the film moving at a quick pace.
While there’s never a moment where this film isn’t entertaining, it really does lack much of a point. There’s some interesting territory broached about the nature of parenting in a constantly moving society, but it’s not deeply explored. There’s never that emotional gut punch moment to remove the audience from all the absurdity. Sure, there are attempts to slow the movie down, but they feel awkward The side story with Nate and his family particularly feels lost. It’s touching to see them bond, but it feels pulled from a more reserved, Pixar style film. Since the emotional moments never truly mesh, what is supposed to be a soaring moment of glee at the end of the film falls a bit flat. The filmmakers are clearly satisfied enough with simply having ideas instead of getting mileage out of them. That certainly works for a goofy comedy, but not much beyond that.
Storks gets a whole lot of mileage out of how fun it is on a basic level. It’s consistently funny, and the dynamic animation ensures that your eyes will not wander for the entire ninety minutes. However, it’s only barely better than it has any right to be. If Stoller and his team had found something genuinely human in all the absurdity, this could have been great. That is the secret touch that Lord and Miller bring to projects like these. They have the same wild sense of humor, but by the end, you’ll care about a Lego brick as much as any human you’ve ever met. Hopefully, this is a stepping stone to stronger Warner Bros animation projects in the future. If they stop worrying about mimicking Lord and Miller (the upcoming Lego Movies take care of that for us), they could give us a film that really flies.