UK Release Date: 14th October 2016
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland
Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Anton Starkman, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Synopsis: Storks don’t deliver babies any more; they deliver parcels for an online megastore. When the old baby machine is activated, there’s one more child that needs to make it to a home.
Kiddie animation is one of the few reliable box office earners, alongside Marvel superheroes, in the modern movie landscape. A bubblegum-coloured tale of anthropomorphised creatures is a pretty safe bet, so it’s little surprise that Warner Bros Pictures went to that particular well for Storks. The myth of storks delivering babies to expectant parents is a well-known one and the film has a smart twist on that premise, but that’s more or less where the inventiveness and intrigue comes to an end.
Junior (Andy Samberg) is moving up in the ranks at Cornerstore, run by storks who now deliver packages instead of babies, and looks set to inherit the business from current boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammer). His only remaining task is to get rid of Tulip (Katie Crown) – a clumsy human orphan who has been allowed to live and work with the storks. He can’t bring himself to do this, so instead locks her away in the old mail room, with the inactive baby-making machine. Tulip receives a letter from lonely child Nate (Anton Starkman), who struggles to get attention from his workaholic parents (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell) and really wants a sibling.
In the pantheon of great recent animated movies, Storks feels like a lesser entry. It’s an interesting premise transformed into a blandly traditional adventure narrative, populated by characters who aren’t particularly memorable and don’t seem to have much to do outside of fulfilling standard kids’ movie archetypes. The only exception is a pack of wolves, led by comedy duo Key and Peele, who provide consistent laughs and steal every scene in which they appear with their fast-talking squabbling and charisma, as well as an ability to apparently transform themselves into things.
Like the wolves, there are aspects of Storks that really do work. Kelsey Grammer is great value as the grouchy, brutally hard-nosed boss and a final montage brings with it a real emotion, with some added touches of surprisingly progressive politics. Unfortunately, these laughs are fairly sparse across the running time as the plot unfolds in distinctly banal fashion. Almost every plot development is entirely predictable for anyone who has ever watched a Disney film or a Pixar film.
There’s plenty of attempts to emotionally manipulate the audience, especially in the final act, but none of the true heart and feelings that power the best animated movies. Storks is keen to throw cute stuff at the screen in the hope that some of it sticks, but it lacks any sense of authenticity. It also isn’t helped by the slightly surrealist edge of Bad Neighbours director Nicholas Stoller, who is rather ill-disciplined in marshalling the story on to the big screen.
Storks comes across as a hodgepodge of potentially funny ideas that don’t come together into a complete and compelling movie. The performances are ordinary and the handful of decent jokes are only brief oases in what is otherwise a rather barren wasteland, both in terms of comedy and in terms of the emotional heft that the best kids’ movies have at their side. Average might once have been enough in this field, but it just doesn’t cut it any more.
Pop or Poop?
Storks might once have been a perfectly fine animated movie but, in 2016, there’s such a wealth of options on offer that every major release needs to have something special behind it. Instead, we get talented comedians on autopilot, a squandered central conceit and a room full of stern faces with steadfastly dry eyes.
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