Storks is a cinematic representation of the most patience-chewing children’s toy; something that blares music, flashes obnoxious lights, rings bells, toots whistles – a real demon plaything. So much should work, yet almost every scene lays flatter than a stinky squished baby diaper. Jokes land clumsily, pacing is completely askew and what’s up with the half-assed birds-and-the-bees story that mixes delivery storks and actual human reproduction (I think)? If your child hasn’t asked where babies come from yet, you better be ready for the most awkward car ride home ever after this parental nightmare of a child’s film.
Andy Samberg stars as Junior, a soon-to-be promoted deliver stork working for Cornerstore.com. Storks were once known for delivering babies based on mailed letters from hopeful parents, but then big-boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) realizes the profit margins are found in parcel delivery, so the baby division is shut down. The storks become feathered UPS flyers, while humans go back to doin’ the nasty to have kids – I think? No one really addresses why you’d send away for a baby when you can boink one out – sorry, getting distracted.
Long story short, an orphan named Tulip (Katie Crown) was the last stork-delivered child, except her delivery bird goes nuts and tries to keep her. She stays working at Cornerstore.com, Junior has to fire her on her 18th birthday (because storks believe in emancipation?), things go wrong, another baby is made (not between Tulip and Stork Junior, don’t worry), and the duo has to deliver their test-tube child before Hunter finds out.
Sounds positive, right? Tulip and Junior bicker like strained parents being forced into a relationship based on mutual love of another life, while a sad little boy (Nate, played by Anton Starkman) dreams of having a ninja brother to play with while he’s neglected by his always-working family (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston). A son bonds with his distracted mother and father by building an amusement part ride on top of their house, while a stork breaks the number one rule of baby delivery – you never talk about baby fight club. No, that’s not it. Ah, “never open the package.” Once “the package” gets a name (Diamond Destiny or something stripper-y like that), Samberg’s voice goes from shrill and annoying to shrill, loving and annoying. It’s amazing what the gaze of a child can do, and how Storks STILL manages not to make good on the inherent “DAWWWW!” factor that comes from a baby assembly line.
The problem with Storks is that it never finds its rhythm, comedic or dramatic. From Junior’s first scenes, WB’s animated division strikes an Animaniacs vibe without the mature wit (that Prince joke, seriously), only to pave-way for random pop ballads set to what should be deeply emotional scenes of reconnection and familial love. Look no further than this comedy’s even more comedic relief – a bro pigeon voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman – for an example of how nonsensically exasperating Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay can be.
Children won’t understand why the pigeon’s flow-y hair and constant banter about “last night’s game” might be slightly humorous to a working-class adult, yet parents will immediately be turned off by “Pigeon Toady’s” never-ceasing barrage of “BRAH” phrases and hair-flips. Too much, too easy and nothing that plays to either audience Storks is directed at.
This is the film’s unfortunately constant tone, whether it be Samberg’s Junior stating the obvious (which is supposed to be shocking in itself?) to Key and Peele’s wolves (Alpha and Beta) – once again – challenging each other to who can yell and shout the fastest. It doesn’t all flop – the wolf pack can form any collective shape like a furry Voltron, Samberg is sparsely funny – but so much material finds a weird medium between “Ha, OK, that’s a jovial observation” to being stuck on Disney’s “It’s A Small World…” ride.
This is all while animation brightly shines in an almost squint-worthy manner, blurring most white storks into cloudy backgrounds in an undefined way. Luckily, there are penguin thugs who have a brawl while Junior’s baby package is asleep, turning the fight into a silent throwdown so no one wakes up baby – a scene you can watch without weird sun glares that’s also a crowd-pleaser. AKA, a rarity in Storks.
Also, what’s up with this story? Seriously. Sans a progressive baby-delivery montage that features many same sex/interracial/happy couples receiving babies, there’s a strange aversion to answering any questions for young viewers. I get it, Storks is essentially supposed to be the equivalent of a noisy rattle to attract young children (who did not receive the film well in my screening) – but when you’re broaching the topic of where babies come from, a certain deftness is required. Why approach the topic of human reproduction when you create a world where some maniac Willy Wonka factory churns out adorable little bundles of joy? By crossing both boundaries, children will only be more curious about the miracle of life, while Storks creates gaping holes in a story that struggles to work as both a broad message and thematic vessel.
Storks is momentarily funny when it’s not boorishly and exhaustively begging for your attention. Everyone involved is extremely talented, yet my in-theater experience was a rather silent one, without laughs from adults or children alike. “Uncomfortably unfunny” is the term I’d use, because you want to enjoy anything by Nicholas Stoller (and I generally do), or laugh along with Andy Samberg, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael Key and many others. You want to, but you can’t. This animated film is so flocking bad that it’s not even for the birds, as forced moments of wonder and curiosity are drowned out by generic top-charting hits from musical acts I’d assume are popular in today’s day and age. Who knew a family flick about corporate fowl cold be such a mystifying buzzkill?