- Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2016
The question of "Where do babies come from?" has been answered, throughout movie history, with some unsavory characters. In the case of "Rosemary's Baby," a demonic neighbor was to blame. In "Knocked Up," it was Seth Rogen's doing. The truth can hurt.
But evading the query has its own lineage, too, and in "Storks," the cop-out answer — one I suspect most toddlers don't even buy — has been given the full animated movie treatment. "Storks," at least, has the sense to tweak the old myth (the folklore of baby-delivering storks goes back before Hans Christian Anderson and runs all the way to "Dumbo") and imagine the large birds more like Amazon delivery drones.
The storks, from their remote island enclave, have given up the baby business to embrace the more lucrative line of online sales. Now they deliver things like new cellphones to equally expectant customers, a flock right out of Jeff Bezos' own heart.
A cutthroat corporate environment has also replaced a more natural habitat. Junior (Andy Samberg) is a company bird devoted to pleasing his suit-clad CEO (Kelsey Grammer). But his promotion is jeopardized when he fails to carry out an order to fire the place's lone human worker, Tulip (Katie Crown), an orphan baby now grown and mostly wrecking the assembly lines.
You'd assume a movie about storks would inevitably be about parenting, but the film, directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, is more about maintaining a work-family balance. Junior begins questioning his workplace allegiance while he and Tulip, having accidentally put the baby-making machinery back into action, desperately try to deliver a wished-for baby.
The baby request comes, by letter, from the lonely son (Anton Starkman) of an overworked realtor couple (Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell). In a nice touch, they work from home, a convenience that has nevertheless obliterated their home life. "We never stop" is their mantra, one countless parents today can surely easily identify with. Their boy taunts them: "I'll be in college in the blink of an eye."
If there was more inquiry into this part of "Storks," the film may have found its emotional core. But instead, the bumbling quest of Junior and Tulip takes precedent, as they elude things like a pack of baby-smitten wolves. (Their leaders are voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.)
Stoller, a comedy filmmaker ("Neighbors," ''Forgetting Sarah Marshall") making his animated debut, and Sweetland, a veteran Pixar animator, come from different worlds and the mix of humor and sentiment doesn't quite gel.
On the other hand, Samberg in bird-form is surprisingly true to Samberg the human. To a degree rare in animated movies, "Storks" has assimilated Samberg's comic sensibility in PG form. His Junior is goofy, self-deprecating and sweet, and says things like "Cool beans."
Executive produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("The LEGO Movie"), "Storks" has a lot of the ingredients for a playful, irreverent cartoon. One clever fight scene with penguins plays out in total quiet, so as not to wake the baby.
But the movie doesn't have enough to hang itself on; the premise is too flimsy and that old question of "Where babies come from?" remains oddly avoided, in even a child-friendly way. Kids, you're just going to have to look for answers elsewhere.
"Storks," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "mild action and some thematic elements." Running time: 86 minutes. Two stars out of four.