Published on October 8th, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden0
STORKS – REVIEW
Growing up, I looked forward to Saturday mornings above all things. First, it meant no school, no responsibilities and the ability to binge on a seemingly unlimited supply of sugar-infused breakfast cereals, all while driving my parents insane. The only reasonable way of getting me to sit down, shut up, and not break more furniture was to turn on the television and tune in to reruns of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies.
Today, there are few televised, animated shorts that can match the creativity, energy, intellect and downright weirdness of Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc’s creations. From Bugs Bunny to Marvin the Martian, the Warner Bros. cast of misfits took animation away from reality and charted a path toward the sublime. Whether their characters were imitating conductor Leopold Stokowski, cross-dressing or finding new uses for dynamite, the scripts were always 10 steps ahead of the audience and the culture.
Why am I writing a love letter to animated films of yesteryear? Because it has become increasingly rare to find animation willing to be as daringly eccentric as those older Warner Bros. classics. Pixar, the current king of theatrical animation, is always sure to tie its films to reality. Whether they are telling the story of anthropomorphized bugs, toys, fish, emotions or rats, it’s always grounded in the real world, with real, lifelike consequences and stakes. It is only when their films break from reality that they begin to fall apart, like the film-stopping, extended car-chase sequence in Finding Dory.
Thankfully, Warner Bros. has taken up the mantle of the weird, producing some of the wittiest animated films in decades: The Lego Movie and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. So, it is a huge compliment to say that writer/director Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, The Muppets) and director Doug Sweetland’s (Presto) newest flick, Storks, continues the legacy that Porky Pig started.
Storks tells the rather complicated tale of Junior (Andy Samberg), one of many storks that now work delivering packages for the CornerStore.com, a fill-in for Amazon.com. You see, years ago, storks decided delivering babies via cloth and wings was getting too dangerous and exhausting. So they retired from the business, leaving it up to humans to continue the tradition in an unspeakably icky way. Yet, on the eve of Junior’s promotion to big boss of the shipping empire, a new baby is born – through a process too complicated to describe here – and he has to set out on a secret quest to deliver it to its rightful parents himself, or risk being fired.
There’s a lot of moving pieces in Storks, including an orphaned human girl who lives with the storks (Katie Crown), the dysfunctional family awaiting the baby, and the baby itself, not to mention a pigeon lackey, a pack of shape-shifting wolves, a penguin hit squad, and more invisible glass than you can count – because it’s invisible!
Storks is constantly comedically inventive, and even better, it packs in something for all audiences. Most of the jokes will sail right over children’s heads, particularly the film’s satirical take on Amazon and the sleepless nights of parenting, but the film is sure to follow these up with equally funny moments of Junior face-planting into glass. The film is so detached from the physics and ramifications of the real world that one might expect an anvil to come crashing down on our protagonists’ heads, but that’s exactly what allows the film’s sharp barbs to sting but never hurt.
The only lamentable element of Storks is its handling of the family dynamics that occur in the household awaiting the recently birthed child. Young Nate’s (Anton Starkman) parents are addicted to work enough that they’ve ignored their son’s desire for playtime. Nate’s displeasure finds its way into a letter to the storks, and he dutifully begins to prepare his house for the baby’s pending arrival.
Eventually his parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) humor his actions, with no actual desire for a new baby themselves, and they abandon their work to completely remodel their house for what they think is a fictional baby. This kind of Leave it to Beaver moralizing doesn’t quite match with the economically difficult realities of parenting in 2016. There’s a distinct difference between making time for family and dropping everything to indulge a child’s whims. While the sentiment is well intentioned, as the primary moral lesson of this film, it is far from even-handed.
Still, Storks knows better than to get completely lost in its moralizing and instead continues to dazzle with huge set pieces fitting of a theatrical presentation, and warm emotional moments to balance the nonstop visual gags. But those visual gags are perhaps the funniest to see on the screen this year. Describing them would steal the spontaneous fun and would probably read as nonsense, but a late-film silent battle between a team of penguins and a human-stork package ball had me howling with a laughter I haven’t experienced since my childhood of Cap’n Crunch and Daffy Duck.