Parents are going to have some pretty serious explaining to do after this animated outing. In fact, we have a few questions of our own. Co-directors Nicholas Stoller (Bad Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising) and Doug Sweetland (Pixar’s Presto) approach the ancient mythological association between storks and baby delivery systems, one popularised by the likes of Hans Christian Andersen and the 1946 Looney Tunes cartoon Baby Bottleneck. The union of the directors styles in STORKS is often amusing, but it doesn’t make it any less weird.
Storks have long since given up on delivering babies, and instead have shifted their operations to making parcel deliveries for online super-chain Cornerstore. Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg), the company’s top delivery stork, is on the verge of a promotion by CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), but in order to get the gig he has to fire the orphan Tulip (Katie Crown), the only human working at the company. Plans go awry when neglected child Nate (Anton Starkman) orders up a baby brother, and Tulip mistakenly creates a child in the Baby Making Machine that they now have to deliver.
Co-director Sweetland won an Annie Award for his animation work on 2001’s Monsters, Inc., and the experience apparently stuck. STORKS borrows much of the same loose structure of the Disney·Pixar film, but lacks its sense of direction. Stoller’s script is more of a series of unambitious gags that play on the universal love of babies, occasionally bordering on the offensive as Tulip abandons all reason in a montage of instinctive protective motherhood. It relies on this somewhat satirical assumption too much, missing the actual adorableness that Pixar’s “Boo” and “Kitty” dynamic gave to that film.
Yet there’s a subplot about a broken human family that plays more to the heart of the film, even if it mostly feels like an entirely separate short film-within-a-film about learning to be a parent. Other elements are just odd, especially the ‘brah’-spouting Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman), whose assistance to the CEO largely consists of non sequiturs, incongruous musical sequences (including one set to The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now”) and humour that doesn’t fit kids or adults. Here Stoller tries for something similar to his take on The Muppets, but misses the mark by a few inches with inconsistent tones.
It’s still gorgeously animated, conceived under the Warner Animation Group that gave us The LEGO Movie, but with the bulk of the animation service provided by Sony Pictures Imageworks. It’s a little disconcerting seeing birds with teeth, but there’s some wonderfully visually inventive moments throughout the film. The Wolf Pack, led by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Alpha and Beta (and in the local edition, comedian Peter Hellier as the rest of the wolves), form giant shapes of minivans and boats to chase their targets. Later, a group of babysitting penguins are being cautious to not wake the baby, and a hilarious silent action scene makes it difficult to stifle laughter.
STORKS might struggle with it own internal logic, but it’s essentially a good-natured romp that reworks a familiar idea. Glossing over the troubling implications of the stork/human relationships, or that the film continues the heteronormative trend of suggesting that children “complete” families, there’s a well-intentioned film here, even if its exact audience might be unidentifiable. Yet if the film has taught us anything, everything has its place in the world. Even so, parents: good luck with having “the talk” as the credits roll.