Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland
Stars: voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammar, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Peter Helliar, Anton Stackman, Ike Barinholtz.
The second animated film to be released this week, Storks is a high concept comedy that is likely to have far broader appeal for family audiences than The Red Turtle, the latest offering from Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli.
Storks is an animated film that plays around with the old mythology that had storks delivering babies to expectant mothers. This film starts with a cute premise – the storks have gone out of the baby delivering business. Under the leadership of the bombastic and greedy Hunter (voiced by Frasier star Kelsey Grammer) the storks now deliver retail goods direct to households for online marketing conglomerate Conerstore.com (think Amazon and the like) from their remote mountaintop base. Meanwhile the baby making machine sits idle and thousands of letter from anxious parents sit unopened.
The central character here is Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg, from tv series Brooklyn Nine-Nine and SNL, etc), an overachieving stork who is line for a major promotion. Hunter asks him to fire their only human employee, the accident prone Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown, a little known actress who has done lots of voice over work). Tulip is an orphan who has been raised by the storks since a rogue stork (Danny Trejo) failed to deliver her to a human family. An outsider in this community of storks, Tulip is a carefree and optimistic person who loves inventing things. Well-meaning by nature she also creates havoc, and Hunter believes that her chaotic presence is hurting the firm’s bottom line.
However Junior is unable to bring himself to fire Tulip. But Tulip opens a letter from Nate (Anton Stackman), a young boy who has requested a baby brother because he is lonely as his parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) are workaholics who spend little time with him. Tulip turns on the baby making machine, resulting in an unexpected arrival that needs to be delivered. Junior sets off with Tulip to deliver the unauthorised baby before Hunter discovers what has happened.
Storks deals with some universal themes like family, parenthood, friendship, loyalty, greed and commerce. It also serves up an amusing and original variation on the familiar road trip formula with a pair of mismatched characters setting out on a journey. Tulip and Junior develop an odd couple dynamic that drives the action, and the film itself delivers some big laughs.
This is certainly unusual territory for director Nicholas Stoller who is better known for his raunchy, gross out adult comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Bad Neighbours, etc. He did make the more family friendly update of The Muppets, and obviously has an idea of what amuses younger kids, but this is his first foray into animation. The co-director is animation veteran Doug Sweetland, who has worked on several films for Pixar. The film is busy, noisy and colourful, and unfolds with a manic energy and a frenetic approach. There is plenty of physical slapstick humour and some clever sight gags. Stoller has an anarchic style too that will amuse older audiences and there are plenty of silly, throw away lines. The computer generated animation itself is sparkling and well done, full of colour and movement to amuse the younger audiences.
One of the more original touches is the creation of a hungry wolf pack (led by comedy sketch duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) that are charmed by the baby’s presence and are swept up with love for the cute baby. They are also able to transform themselves into vehicles like a boat or a submarine. Another great touch is the fight with a group of angry penguins that is silent because they don’t want to wake the sleeping baby.
The subplot following the human family who go along with their son’s dreams for a baby brother resonates on an emotional level but is less enjoyable and becomes a little saccharine at times. However, Stoller avoids becoming too sentimental
Stoller has assembled a strong vocal cast to bring the characters to life. Samberg brings a nice empathy to his role. Crown delivers a strong vocal performance, but her Tulip is one of the most annoying characters created for an animated film. From the outset she grated and I never warmed to her throughout the film. Stephen Kramer Glickman voices the obsequious pigeon Toady, Hunter’s sycophantic assistant. Burrell and Aniston bring a certain poignancy to their roles as Nate’s parents. And has often happened with animated films lately, the studio has hired a local actor to voice one of the lesser characters to make it relevant – in this case local comic Peter Helliar voices the wolf pack, although his presence barely registers.