Allow me to draw your attention to the directing credits on the new animated film Storks. The first name belongs to live-action feature veteran Nicholas Stoller (who also wrote the movie), who had writing and/or directing credits on such films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement, The Muppets and both Neighbors movies; the second is Doug Sweetland, a longtime Pixar workhorse who also directed that house’s Oscar-nominated Presto short. So the combination of Stoller’s abilities to mine the absurd and Sweetland sense of what makes for great animated storytelling has resulted in Storks, an almost surreal take on the place of these flying deliver machines in the world…or at least in a world where, at one point, in which they used to not just deliver babies, but also manufacture them based on the parents’ specs.
From high on Stork Mountain, there used to be a mysterious baby-making factory that would receive letters from would-be parents from all over the world, a baby would be magically created via a Baby Making Machine, and a stork would deliver it to the excited parents. But about 18 years earlier than our story begins, a baby was created whose parents could not be located because her “beacon” (basically a GPS to the parents’ home) was destroyed. The storks agreed to raise young Tulip until she was 18, at which time they would send her out into the world to fend for herself, but in the meantime she has attempted to help out around the newly rebranded Cornerstore.com, a worldwide, Amazon-like retailer and package delivery service run by head stork Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), who opens the film ready to retire and promote underling Junior (Andy Samberg) to his position.
Junior’s first assignment is to fire the now grown Tulip (Katie Crown) and set her out into the world. But he chickens out and reassigns her to the now-defunct baby-making factory, where she still manages to get into trouble by activating the machine when a stray letter arrives from young Henry Gardner (Anton Starkman) posing as his real estate broker parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) because he wants a baby brother, preferably with ninja skills. When the new baby is born, Junior and Tulip must hide the baby’s existence and get it to its parents without detection.
Storks is ostensibly a road movie with some truly weird stops on the journey from Stork Mountain to Smalltown, U.S.A. Tulip has been an outsider all her life, so the significance of taking part in this important mission is not lost on her. She’s also a consummate screw-up, whose enthusiasm to be a part of the establishment often gets her in a great deal of trouble. Junior is a company man who was only too happy to have baby delivery taken off the list of responsibilities of his fellow storks. So of course, the minute they both first lay eyes on this newborn, the fall instantly in love and become very protective. One of the hazards of the journey are a pack of wild wolves, led by an Alpha and Beta wolf (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), who also want the cute baby and chase Junior and Tulip for most of the film.
I’m fairly certain that the primarily theme of the film is about following your heart, expressing who you truly are, and all that jazz. But as far as the plot goes, the mission seems to be to get the storks back on board with the idea of delivering babies full time, which is odd considering that’s not a real thing, let alone a goal worthy of working toward. Samberg and Crown are enthusiastic enough in their voice work to keep the proceedings above ground, but clearly the goings on are low stakes, while running high on the action sequences. Another seemingly threatening presence is the old, possibly deranged stork Jasper (Danny Trejo), who is the one that accidentally broke Tulips beacon in the first place, and he’s been wracked with guilt every since.
Storks is consistently funny, it moves like the wind, and it’s bizarre enough that adults might get more out of the odd storyline than kids just wanting to find out where babies come from. As he proved in the Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs films, Samberg is a source of unlimited, unhinged vocal prowess. He’s perfect for the animated format and adds a real sense of fun to the proceedings. The film’s visual style pops off the screen, especially during the daredevil flying chase sequences (the 3D here is quite impressive), but the design work of the storks factory and baby making machine comes right out of some kids friendly steampunk workhouse. Sure, Storks is lightweight, but its quirkiness is what sold me on the concept at all. There’s a wonderful sense of creativity in the plot, even if the animation seems a bit pedestrian at times. There are better family films in theaters right now, but if you’ve seen them, you might want to take a peek at Storks.