In a market saturated with successful animation studios like Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Illumination, and LAIKA, among others, Warner Animation Group (or WAG) has struggled to make a significant impression. It was not until WAG came out of a 10-year hiatus and released The Lego Movie in 2014 that they finally had a financial success. Hoping to ride that new wave of popularity, WAG began work on Lego Movie sequels immediately, but found that there was a small gap in between movie releases. Not wanting to wait for so long to have another project released, they began work on a new IP that they believed would be successful enough to keep their second wind going. That work led to the new animated family film Storks.
Storks tells the story of those storks who once ran a business that delivered babies to wanting families. After eventually realizing how troublesome baby transportation is when all you have is a piece of cloth to hold them in, the storks decided to take their business in a new direction by becoming an Amazon-style online marketplace that delivers products to homes with unmatched speed, thus shutting down their baby division. Enter Junior, the best stork employee in the business. In order to secure a promotion from his intimidating CEO, he needs to fire the adult human orphan Tulip, who’s been a nuisance to the company ever since she ended up stranded there after a failed delivery.
Naturally, things don’t go quite as planned as in the process of firing Tulip, a series of misadventures results in the baby factory accidentally producing another baby. Now stuck with this forbidden baby, Junior and Tulip are forced to team up and deliver the newborn to her new family, a couple also going through their own issues while preparing for her arrival.
The film’s plotting is established right from the get-go, constantly checking in on two other subplots while Junior, Tulip, and the baby go on their journey. Shockingly enough, the movie works well regardless of the convoluted plot. In fact, Storks is one of the most entertaining family films of the year. It has a sense of mad humor that perfectly matches the scattershot style of the storytelling. This basic set up has been seen before. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: two contrasting characters go on an adventure after a calamity brings them together to fix a problem, only to split up and re-team again to confront the third act’s villain, all while learning lessons of friendship and family along the way.
Pixar, for example, is notorious for using this basic structure often, altering little on their way to box-office billions. Storks does not pretend to be entirely original with its plot, but instead allows its unique premise and humor to justify the familiar plot beats.
The humor is front and center here, firing off in every direction with enthusiastic silliness. The jokes are flashy and colorful enough for children while also witty and clever enough for their parents. This works as well as it does because of its talented cast. Andy Samberg provides the voice of Junior, his erratic energy matching well with the tone of the film. Katie Crown makes her feature animation debut as Tulip, providing the character with enough personality and sympathy to spare. Kelsey Grammer gives a great deadpan voice performance as the stork CEO named Hunter and he is often the recipient of some of the film’s best lines, which he performs unashamedly with gusto. Comedy duo Key & Peele are well utilized as an entire pack of wolves that are featured in the funniest action sequence. Nevertheless, it’s comedian Stephen Kramer Glickman who steals the show as Pigeon Toady, one of the silliest characters in recent memory.
The film is often side-splitting in hilarity, which makes the third act even more disappointing. As mentioned before, the film is using a familiar structure with its plot, which means it inevitably has to have some sort of third act action sequence involving a villain of some kind. It is as if the movie comes to a halt and has to create new plot elements previously non-existent to justify this third act sequence. There’s humor that seems nonsensical and unexpected, but even “random” humor has to build in tone. There are elements in the third act that come out of nowhere only to create scenarios that could justify the situation that the main characters find themselves caught up in. Previously, the film found clever ways to develop predicaments for our protagonists, so for it to become lazy in the finale is particularly disappointing.
Still, these faults are easily excused given how entertaining the rest of the film is, but when the main plot and the subplot involving the waiting family come together that the film suddenly justifies everything that came before. There’s a montage set to song that starts out cute, but then decides to take a progressive chance with its message in the sweetest and most honest of ways. What it does for family entertainment is decidedly small, but its importance is great. I was caught completely off guard by the film’s willingness to go in that direction, earning my deepest respect. It is an example that other films should learn from and follow.
Storks is a film that is better than it deserved to be. Even with a familiar plot, it never fails to surprise and entertain with a crazy sense of humor and deeply touching emotional core. It may not be on par with recent animation blockbusters like Zootopia or Finding Dory, but it deserves to stand among them as one of the year’s most delightful surprises. Families are sure to love it.