Warner Bros. Pictures’ new animated film Storks main theme can be seen one of two ways: 1) a backhanded slap against big business, or 2) a reigniting of the flames of one’s true purpose in the world. Either way, Storks emerges as a frenetic, joyously adorable family film which will probably strain your neck from all head-tilting you’ll do while you say “Awwww!” at its cuteness. Voiced by an energetic and committed cast, the film examines not just the themes mentioned above, but the notion of family and how far one goes to either keep it or find it.
Andy Samberg of The Lonely Island and “Saturday Night Live” infamy voices Junior, a stork holding the record for delivering babies packages for an Amazon-esque company, Cornerstore.com. Wait – a stork delivering packages, not babies? Yup, storks delivering babies swaddled in white sheets have become a thing of the past after one too many botched deliveries, a comment upon both shoddy quality control and the world being more comfortable talking about where babies come from. Thanks to Cornerstone.com’s CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), storks’ public image has turned from one of dubiousness to that of the reliable delivery agent capable of getting you anything you need when you need it.
We’re shown in brief flashbacks how the old Cornerstone.com office and warehouse used to be a baby factory, with little squealers coming fresh out of machinery, picked up, and dropped off at the doorsteps of eagerly awaiting parents-to-be. Supply, demand, and mistakes doomed this business, with one last delivery never being made – a girl named Tulip (Katie Crown), who’s grown up around the storks, becoming a family member to some, but a nuisance in the eyes of Hunter and his lackey, Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman). Hunter decides to cut this last tie to the former business and promises Junior a promotion if he does one thing: fire Tulip and return her to the human world.
Speaking of the human world, there’s Nate (Anton Starkman), an only child whose parents Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) and Henry (Ty Burrell) spend more time on their real estate business than they do with their own son. Frustrated by seeing other kids with siblings, he writes a letter wishing for a brother with whom he could dispel the loneliness brought on by his neglectful parents. Through random happenstance and a confrontation between Junior and Tulip, the letter, of course, starts a chain reaction in a disused contraption in the Cornerstone.com distribution center – the Baby Making Machine – and out pops the first baby the storks have seen in many years.
So begins Junior and Tulip’s adventure to not only deliver the baby, but to evade Hunter and Pigeon Toady, who catch wind of this unauthorized creation and do everything in their power to stop it. It’s a little like Monsters, Inc., where toddler Boo has to be returned to the human world by Sulley and Mike Wazowski, all the while being hounded by Randall and Waternoose; however, there’s a lot to differentiate the two films, with Storks being buoyed by an ample amount of laughs and emotions all the way to its heartstring-pulling end.
Kids are going to delight in the rapport between the loud, brash Junior and the sweet, unassuming Tulip. Samberg and Crown play off each other well, creating a fluid, raucous dynamic which might remind young viewers of their relationships with their own brothers or sisters. Also shining in the voice department are the two leaders of a wolf pack they encounter, played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (of Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele,” natch). Their manic voices while being aggressive toward Junior and Tulip contrast hilariously with the voices they use when they’re suddenly lovestruck by the baby, and their characters are fun to watch, even if they’re a little threatening (and possibly a little intense for younger viewers).
Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay (which he co-directed) makes sure to send everything up, from overworked parents to birds flying into glass windows. The stories on both sides are rich and flavorful, with excellent voice acting and animation to match. Junior and Tulip’s journey takes us not just into odd locations, but into the heart of what it means to be a family. Is it the one you’re born to, or is it the one you earn as your life goes on? What if it’s both? And what if it’s not what some people would call “traditional”? It bears mentioning that this may be the first animated children’s film I’ve seen which includes couples of all racial and gender types, albeit in its ending montage, which displays the film’s central theme: familial love and acceptance.
Storks gives you the funny, but it gives you the emotional weight a story like this deserves. True, the notion of babies being delivered by storks is frivolous at best (I’m married to a doula, and even she enjoyed the movie), but is it more a metaphor telling us that we all come from the same place and that we have to learn to love each other as best we can? It’s poetic, and I’d like to think that. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to see cute babies being pumped out by heavy machinery and flown around by birds. Either way, Storks is a winsome delight, enjoyable to look at, but even more fun to experience.