Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland
Written by Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammar, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, and Stephen Kramer Glickman
Runtime: 89 minutes
At what point do you realize that a studio is largely not responsible for a movie but the creative people employed by the studio is? About the point you realize that the brilliant and inspired The Lego Movie came from the same studio the bland and repetitive Storks does. Maybe this is a surprise, considering writer/director Nicholas Stoller co-wrote The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted and wrote and directed the funny Neighbors, but Storks swings wildly and misses on almost every one.
The premise is amusing, that of storks no longer delivering babies but working for an online superstore not unlike Amazon. After that, when the plot elements are added, things start to go downhill fast. They’ve raised an orphan human, Tulip (Katie Crown), because she was supposed to be the last baby delivered but her tracking beacon was damaged and she couldn’t be. Junior (Andy Samberg) is the top deliverer and is called in by the boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammar). Hunter is getting promoted to President and he wants Junior to replace him. All he has to do is fire Tulip (who is a major klutz, of course) by Monday and the job is his. When he can’t bring himself to fire her, he puts her in the letters office, which is basically defunct, to keep her out of sight. This works until they receive a letter from Nate Gardner (Anton Starkman) asking for a baby brother because he believes his parents Sarah and Henry (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell) work too much and need another baby so they pay attention to their family instead of their real estate business. Tulip takes the letter to the baby production machine and mistakenly turns it on instead of putting the letter into the pile of letters on the other side of the room (since they don’t deliver babies anymore). A baby is made and Junior takes Tulip to deliver it before Monday so he can be boss.
Yes, the movie is that exhausting and that’s just part of the first act. The funniest bit involves a wolf pack, led by Alpha (Keegan-Michael Key) and Beta (Jordan Peele) that is surprising…if you haven’t seen the trailer. They can take the form of a variety of modes of transportation and at first, it’s the only genuine laugh in the picture. Then it gets repeated ad nauseam and all the genuine humor is drained from it. Everything else plays out exactly how you would expect: the delivery is fraught with complications, friendships form, a broken family starts to mend, the stork bosses don’t like that there’s a baby, so on and so forth.
The biggest problem with the movie is that there are no real characters, only plot. This is a problem with most sub-par animated films (and live action, to be honest) and Storks is no exception. We are just presented with types that fall a lot. The obvious attempts at humor injection, the wolves and Pidgeon Toadie (Stephen Kramer Glickman) (get it? pidgeon toed? And he’s a toadie?) are forced (the wolves, as I said, not right away, but become so). Pidgeon Toadie is an attack on a dude-bro character that would have worked fine if he was only in his first scene. When he becomes a primary antagonist, he becomes incredibly annoying and more and more unnecessary with each scene he’s in.
Stoller’s screenplay is ham-fisted and feels like he never quite made it past the concept stage, despite layering in mountains of plot. The script just never works beyond its premise. His most successful scripts were done with partners, so maybe it’s just that he can’t write kids movies alone or more likely, he wasn’t the driving force behind those Muppets movies he worked on (more likely because his other writing efforts aren’t very good, partner or no).
The cast is game, but most sound like they’re there for a paycheck and not because of the material. Samberg seems like he’d be a natural for voice acting in animated pictures, but so far his track record is spotty at best (both Hotel Transylvania pictures and now this).
There just isn’t much here for the audience, young or old. There was very little laughter at the screening I attended, which was mostly populated by kids. I could hear the younger ones asking questions about what was going on and the older ones who were following it just didn’t laugh much and the adults did even less.
The degree to which Storks doesn’t work is astounding given the quality of animated films over the last 20 years or so. As the bar repeatedly gets raised (normally by Pixar, occasionally by DreamWorks or Disney), the flotsam and jetsam leading up to the bar gets more and more piled up. This isn’t the worst animated film of the year, Angry Birds still holds that title, but this is close. It’s frustrating when a clever concept gets buried in unnecessary plot and ignores the characters only to force development upon them in the last act whether they earned it or not. Keep the kids home and watch Zootopia or The Jungle Book instead or if you’re intent on going out, see Kubo and the Two Strings, everyone will be the better for it.