Director: Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland
Genre: Animation, Comedy
STORKS is a film made for children, as it makes little attempt to appease a more mature audience. It’s inspired by the old adage that parents get their babies delivered to them by way of flying storks — the subject of a number of old 40’s and 50’s Warner Bros. cartoons. In this updated Warner version, the mountain-dwelling community of storks have eschewed the baby business in favor of an Amazon.com parody delivery service called Cornerstore. Andy Samberg voices Junior, a stork who is on the precipice of becoming the next “boss stork” — a goal that is transparently arbitrary. He is joined by Tulip, an orphan human who has had no choice but to continue working with the Storks for the past 18 years because she was never given to her family. Together, the two accidentally make a baby (in a factory, of course) and are forced into parenthood, while they attempt to transport it to the subject of the movie’s B-story: Nate, an only child yearning for a younger brother.
One younger brother at a time…
STORKS stands as director Nicholas Stoller’s animation debut (though he’s produced and written several animated films) and it shows — the comedy rarely strikes a universal chord, blatantly alternating between adult jokes and kid jokes. One wonders if the R-rated humor in his previous films FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and NEIGHBORS was more of a crutch than a necessity. Fortunately, he is able to show off some of his visual storytelling chops with a beautiful travel montage, as well as a scene where Tulip entertains herself by acting as every kind of employee at an empty factory. These early moments are the film’s strongest, as they don’t force the audience to keep pace with a hyperactive plot filled with detours that feel as though they exist solely to present a fresh color scheme for children to gawk at. The rapid-fire pace at which the characters move through the story is a poor imitation of the beloved LEGO MOVIE, which resurrected Warner Animation Group (WAG) in 2014. Unfortunately, STORKS doesn’t earn many of the story beats and location changes, making it feel incoherent. So much happens in such a short film (87 minutes) that one can’t help but think there’s stuff left on the cutting room floor which would have alleviated the pace and made the through lines more clear.
Where STORKS falls the most flat, however, is the story itself. It hardly attempts any substantial message that audiences have come to expect from the likes of Pixar, and that’s not from a lack of opportunity. The premise could explore the pros of adoption, the bittersweet experience of parenting, or even approach a religious allegory. Instead, the film literally ends with a group hug — hinting at the importance of family but doing so with no thematic heft. The voice acting work doesn’t help bring the underwritten characters to life. Key & Peele are cast as a pair of wolves, but even their predictably fun banter is wasted because their characters never feel vital to the story, instead coming off as second act filler.
Parents at the screening of STORKS
The most exciting thing in the screening of STORKS happened before the movie began — the premiere of a new LEGO short titled THE MASTER. Accurately matching the tone of the 2014 feature, this short holds the promise shown by the LEGO cinematic universe. Using a self aware narrator (Justin Theroux) and a repeating structure, the short is a buddy story about Master Wu’s (Jackie Chan) rivalry with a chicken. Beyond being concise and funny, it’s also a sign that Warner Bros. hopes to sustain a successful animation department with longevity by copying the Pixar model of showing a short prior to an animated feature. It has yet to be seen if WAG can match the hit-to-miss ratio of Pixar, but if they cultivate the talent of filmmakers like Phil Lord and Chris Miller, they might have a shot. Unfortunately, even if a child or younger sibling gives you a reason to see it, STORKS is not a step in the right direction.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend