It might seem weird to base an entire feature-length cartoon on the premise that there is nothing cuter than a newborn baby. Then again, there are many weird things about Storks, the latest from Warner Bros. Animation. For starters, the film was written and co-directed by Nicholas Stoller, who cut his teeth as a member of Judd Apatow’s raunch factory. On top of that, the film features a genuinely bizarre sense of humor and a style that feels more like a throwback to WB’s old Looney Tunes shorts than to the current tide of CG animation. That general weirdness is the film’s greatest strength. It’s not perfect, but Storks is a treat.
Since time immemorial, storks have delivered babies to expecting parents. Recently, though, storks have gotten out of the baby game in favor of delivering consumer goods out of a giant, Amazon-esque warehouse in the sky. Enter Junior (Andy Samberg), the company’s top delivery boy who’s about to take over the company from Hunter (Kelsey Grammer). All Hunter asks Junior to do is fire Tulip (Katie Crown), the company’s only human employee, who was orphaned at the company by a crazed stork 18 years ago. A series of events too convoluted to cram into a plot summary ends with Tulip accidentally turning on the company’s derelict baby machine, creating a baby, and insisting on delivering it to its parents. Junior tags along to make sure it gets done and parenting hijinks most definitely ensue.
The most glaring issue with Storks is that the plot moves at an insanely fast clip. Everything mentioned in the above paragraph takes place in the first ten minutes. There are other subplots at work here, and every scene feels like it’s in a huge rush to get to the next one. In a certain sense, this is great; the jokes fly fast and furious. On the other hand, it means we’re allowed less time to actually connect with anything going on. This is particularly evident in the subplot concerning young Nate (Anton Starkman), who writes a letter asking the storks to bring him a baby brother because his parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) are too busy to play with him. Nate’s wish for a brother sets the whole story into motion, and we keep coming back to him, but his scenes feel like leftovers from a draft of Storks written to resemble a Pixar film. They’re almost too earnest, which makes the zany nutso stuff going on elsewhere feel even goofier by comparison.
And there’s a ton of goofy stuff rattling around in here. By far the goofiest is the running gag of Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman). He’s Hunter’s airheaded right-hand pigeon who smells trouble afoot, and goes to extreme lengths to solve the mystery of Junior’s baby. Not content to simply have a tiny little Trump-haired bro wandering through the film, the animators turn Pigeon Toady’s hunt into its own little adventure, complete with a CSI-esque theme song.
For all of its goofiness, though, Storks hits on something universal with its treatment of babies. Every character in the film, including a pack of ravenous wolves (led by Key and Peele), stops dead in their tracks to fawn over Junior and Tulip’s baby when it laughs. It’s adorable, and they’ll do absolutely anything to keep it laughing. Then, when the baby begins to cry, it flips a parenting switch in Tulip’s brain that she is powerless to ignore. Babies are too cute not to be coddled, and not even a dorky slouch like Junior (who’s basically the stork version of Mike Wazowski) can resist the baby’s innate cuteness forever.
Of course, at a certain point Storks has to address the elephant in the room: “Where do babies come from?” The machine at stork HQ is an assembly line that cranks out randomly generating babies like magic, but it’s fallen into disuse, so babies must come from somewhere. Whenever the subject comes up, the characters all share an awkward laugh and move on before any kids in the audience can turn and ask the same question. If you’re a parent and you’re not quite ready to have that talk with your kids, all I can say is good luck on the ride home…