My goodness, “Storks” is a strange movie. It’s also a bad one, and a reminder that not all children’s films are created equally. For every “Inside Out” or “Finding Dory,” there is a “Storks.”
The film is the latest 3-D animated entry from Warner Animation Group, the studio behind the delightful “LEGO Movie.” Like “Storks,” “LEGO” was a high-concept idea full of absurd visual gags and pop-culture references. But “LEGO” made it work; somehow, brick by brick, the throw-everything-at-the-wall approach made sense.
In “Storks,” the approach seems schizophrenic. Everything is random (rather than awesome), and the resulting film feels like a series of unconnected moments uncomfortably forced together.
Perhaps this could have worked if the central storyline was stronger. Instead, we’re stuck with a concept that sounds like a screenwriter’s pitch gone bad: “OK, let’s say storks used to deliver babies, but now deliver … packages! Like, Amazon packages. But we’ll call it something else. Then someone orders a baby! So, so, so …”
That’s the plot. A speedy opening explains that storks have moved on from the baby business; after all, there are many other ways to get a baby (wink wink, nudge nudge). Instead, the birds now work for Cornerstore.com, an internet biggie with a global reach.
One of these storks is Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg), a delivery hotshot on the verge of a promotion. (Kelsey Grammer voices the big boss, Hunter.) For reasons too convoluted to go into here, one human, Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown) lives and works at Stork Mountain.
Tulip causes chaos wherever she goes, and Junior is promised a promotion once he “liberates” (fires) her. Instead, he shuffles her to the now-deserted mailroom, the place that once received letters from those seeking babies.
Far away from Stork Mountain is young Nate Gardner, a ninja-obsessed kid desperate for a playmate. His real estate agent parents (the voices of Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) never have time for the boy. But the discovery of an old stork delivery brochure gives him an idea.
Soon enough, Nate’s letter arrives at the mailroom, and sets off a series of events that result in a newborn baby. It falls on Junior to make the delivery and save his promotion, with Tulip in tow.
Admittedly, there are a few laughs during this increasingly strained journey. Most of these arrive thanks to the great Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who play wolf pack leaders Alpha and Beta. The pack’s deliriously complex, all-wolf group creations – a suspension bridge, a boat, a submarine, a minivan – are the movie’s most winning gag.
There’s also the performance of Katie Crown, a Canadian voice actress (“Bob’s Burgers”). There’s really no reason for Tulip to even be in this movie, but Crown makes her an adorably wounded, wildly clever figure.
Yet Tulip is certainly more memorable and likable than any of the storks. Samberg does his best, but fails to make any real impression as Junior. Grammer is typically Grammer-y as the boss.
Another fail is the subplot involving Nate and his parents. The tired if-only-working-parents-could-spend-more-time-with-the-kiddos trope never resonates. Somehow, even in a film about baby-delivering storks, the family’s efforts at building a delivery-ready addition to their house feels like too much.
Surprisingly, “Storks” was co-directed (with Doug Sweetland) by Nicholas Stoller, the filmmaker behind comedies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Neighbors.” He also wrote “The Muppets” and “Muppets Most Wanted,” two of the more enjoyable family films of the last decade.
He brings none of the charm of his earlier efforts to “Storks,” a complete misfire that may entertain very young children, but should prove too unmemorable for everyone else. This is sledgehammer whimsy, and it delivers an awful headache.
1.5 stars (out of 4)
With the voices of: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell.
Directors: Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland
Running time: 89 minutes
Rated: PG for mild action and some thematic elements.
The lowdown: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.