Saturday, September 24, 2016

Storks Gives Birth To Some Funny Gags And A Slipshod Story

Do people still tell their kids the tale of babies coming from storks instead of the more sexually explicit truth? Me not being a father myself (as far as I'm aware), I have no clue if that's still a thing, but maybe it's being kept alive solely by the surprisingly notable presence the tale has in the world of American animation. Let's not forget that it was a stork calling for "Mrs. JUUUUUMMMMBBBOO!!" that brought Dumbo into the world in that 1941 Disney film, while PIXAR had a short film entitled Partly Cloudy that went attached to every screening of the 2009 motion picture Up. And now, the second feature film from Warner Animation Group (the animation studio responsible for The LEGO Movie), Storks, centers its entire plot on the idea of storks bringing humans their offspring.

Here, more detail is given to the concept of storks delivering babies, namely in take cues from the Santa Clause mythology by giving the various stork their own North Pole-like base in Stork Mountain and in the fact that one can write a letter describing what baby you want to the storks (sound familiar?) and they'll turn said letter into a baby via some sort of magical machine, which opens up a whole can of worms on if babies made by this machine have any sort of free will or are doomed to be constrained to the personalities described by their parents in said letter.

For some reason, Storks does not focus on the concept of the various babies delivered by the storks grappling with existentialism. Instead, our tale concentrates on how modern-day storks now deliver packages for Amazon-like retailer instead of bringing babies to people. Junior (Andy Samberg), the hero of our story, is in line to become the new boss in just a few days, so long as he can keep the sole resident human on Stork Mountain, Tulip (Katie Crown), in line. With his job on the line, Tulip, now working in the mail room, ends up turning one young boy's letter into a baby that Junior and Tulip now must covertly deliver without attracting the attention of Junior's maniacal stork boss, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer).

Storks can't help but feel super derivative of other computer-animated family films, namely Ice Age and Monsters Inc., fellow road trip movies involving characters trying to return a youngster to their home. Heck, Junior's initial desire to refer to the newly made baby as The Package feels like it's lifted lock, stock and barrel from a certain one-eyed green monster. There's also plenty of shades of Elf in initial scenes depicting Tulip living in the world of storks, particularly when she's demoted down to working in the mail room, a circumstance Buddy The Elf has absolutely no experience with. The similarities in plot to to other superior movies wouldn't be really an issue if Storks could completely stand on its own from a story perspective, but it's actually got a pretty sloppy story structure, all things considered. Various conflicts get resolved in an abrupt manner that left me going "Oh. I guess we're done with that now." while the film is never able to stand completely on its own enough to push out the pretty obvious similarities to other recent motion pictures out of ones mind.

Even more harmful for Storks overall is that Junior as a lead character doesn't really work. The film doesn't give him much to work with in the ways of an actual character arc (it's implied early on he's a tad lonely, but the films super hyperactive atmosphere means there's not enough time for that aspect of his personality to really leave an impact on the viewer) and he mostly comes off like a jackass, especially towards the end where he acts callous towards Tulip for no other reason other than they need an "All Is Lost Moment" to kick off the third act. Luckily, Andy Samberg (who is considerably better as a voice actor her than in the Hotel Transylvania films where he always sounds like he just took a heavy dose of Xanax) puts in some fine voice work for the character while, thankfully, Tulip is also along for the journey and she's way more fun to be around, to the point where I wondered why she wasn't the solid lead of this movie.

It was no shocker to read about how director Nicholas Stoller (who helms the project along with Doug Sweetland) brought along the idea of the various actors in the movie recording their line together, since it lends the movie a unique naturalistic improv-laden rhythm in the dialogue that's struck me as similar to Stoller's Neighbors movies. Plenty of humor is also wrung out of the hyper-exaggerated animation, especially in the way characters move that ensures any emotions the various players in the story are experiencing will be clearly seen in their body language. There's actually a surprising amount of successful laughs to be had in Storks, which helps alleviate, though by no means outright remove, the flagrant flaws in its plot and lead character that frequently took me out of the movie. But at least Storks is mostly breezy and diverting stuff that I'd actually call the better of the two Nicholas Stoller directed films from this year.

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