September is known to be the dumping ground of the movie-going year. Though January’s selections are usually much worse, September has been known to offer some truly god-awful selections, especially when it comes to animated flicks for kids. So when going into see Warner Bros. Animation’s latest CGi adventure, Storks (directed/co-written by Nicholas Stoller), I was biting my nails waiting for it to leave me in a rage. Surprisingly what I got was something – shockingly – enjoyable.
We meet Junior, (Andy Samberg) a stork, who used to be part of the long-held tradition of delivering babies to parents far and wide. But since an incident happened, which ruined the delivery of a little girl (who grows up to be Tulip, voiced by Katie Crown) the baby-making business has been nixed in favor of a new Amazon Prime inspired workforce, called Corner Store.com. But when Tulip and Junior accidentally create a baby in the mysterious factory, shenanigans ensue – including and not limited to, Junior almost losing his promotion, being chased by a pack of wolfs, and discovering the true cuteness of babies.
Based on the plot, along with the B-storyline involving a little boy wanting a ninja fighting baby brother, it would be easy to dismiss Storks as anything more than just an excuse to put some new family content on Netflix in a few months. But much like some of the beloved cult classics of Disney and other animation powerhouses of the past 20 years, Warner Bros. Animation has created a little movie that at times is too smart for its own good. This isn’t to say that this is a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but when it comes to the movie’s true strengths, there is a lot to commend here.
First and foremost, this might be one of the best voice casts to be assembled for an animated film in sometime. Though we have the typical celebrity choices like Samberg (along with Kelsey Grammar and Key and Peele) they are used so brilliantly that at times you don’t recognize them. There is also the involvement of talents that are known only within the voice actor community, including Crown and Stephen Kramer Glickman, who steal just about every scene as Pigeon Toady. Bringing both angles into the casting was a good move, and sets it apart from the recent competition (I’m looking at you, Illumination!).
Then there is the animation, a category that Warner Bros. has continued to impress me in since 2014’s LEGO Movie. There is a certain sweetness and almost beauty to the film, which is due in large part to the character designs by Sylvain Deboissy. The big-eyed, colorful exaggerated look of the characters helps Storks capture that fluidity and energy of animation’s 2D past – even paying some homages to WB’s Looney Tunes history at times, especially when it comes to any of the scenes with the Wolf Pack involved. So much of the current animated market has a stale, almost dead-eye look to the movement and believability of the characters, and hopefully with Storks as a guide, the industry is leaving that trend behind.
But the most important praise that Storks deserves is not a technical award, nor one having to do with the protagonists themselves or the laughs they deliver, but something that might not catch everyone’s eye: diversity. Now granted, the majority of the cast is assembled of birds and a freckle-faced red head, but when it comes to the variety of babies and families that are shown in some later montage sequences, Stoller and his team make a point to show all the love the world has to offer: straight, mixed, single, gay, lesbian – every mom and dad gets their moment to shine here, and every baby (with every hair color you could imagine) gets theirs.
Yet for any many checkmarks of brilliance Storks receives, there is just enough of a cloud of unfortunate that hangs above the film’s head. The biggest issue resides in its plot, that though it is inventive in the general sense, when examined further it appears to be very thin on the development of its world and characters. Some things exist for the purposes of being good, and nothing more, while others are just bad, but with nothing underneath – all of which makes it seem like certain elements only exist for the delivery of jokes and to get to future jokes/tear jerking moments later on.
The best example of this comes from Junior himself. At the beginning of the film, we learn that he is up for a promotion, and that announcement is followed by a montage that could indicate that what Junior truly wants is a Father/Son bond between himself and the boss (
who I kept thinking was his real father?) – a “family” if you will. But when Junior is faced with the question of why he wants the promotion, he on several occasions replies “I don’t know.” This lack of cohesive explanation, along with an even greater lack of world building as a whole, leaves much to be desired.
Will these facts ultimately ruin your time with the movie? No, but considering how sharp and smart the rest of the script is, it makes this lack of development even more frustrating than usual.
By the end, Storks is a kids movie that rivals above the majority of what 2016 has offered. It’s no Kubo, but it could be just on par or better than even what some of the other major studios have or will release this year. And if this is any indication of the comedic brilliance future WB Animated flicks have in store (looking at you LEGO Batman and Ninjago) then we’ve got a winner on our hands. Let’s just hope they win in all categories next time.