Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW: STORKS

 

October 6, 2016

In a day and age where kids are losing the innocence of childhood and the idea of myth, fantasy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Mother Goose and storks at frighteningly early ages, it's refreshing to see co-directors Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland deliver a story that stops that clock and reverses it, reinvigorating the centuries old "the stork brought you" story while redefining the definition of family for a new generation. Seriously people, does a 3 or 4 year old child reaaaallly need to know exactly how and from where babies come? "The stork brought you" is more than fine as not only does it answer an inquisitive little mind, but it spurs the imagination for stories just like STORKS. And one of the strongest suits of STORKS? It taps into the imaginations of kids as well as the poignant wistful memories of parents everywhere - and does so through a wide range of humor and solid storytelling. STORKS never speaks "above" the audience. Less noticeable, but tacitly impactful, are the ideals of a work ethic, helping, getting the job done no matter how long it takes, personal pride in a job well done, sticktuitiveness; wonderful core values which we see exemplified in the storks and humans.

Stork Mountain has long shuttered its once successful global baby delivery service and in a sign of the times, converted operations into a highly profitable online package delivery operation, Cornerstone.com. Run with an iron wing by CEO Hunter, the company's "star" employee Junior is up for a promotion and desperately wants not only that big corner office in the sky, but to be named Hunter's successor. Needless to say, Junior will do whatever it takes to sway Hunter in his direction and in this case, that means getting rid of Tulip, an over-eager but accident prone red-haired human orphan who has been with the storks since birth after a delivery mishap. Ever trying to be more "stork-like", Tulip prides herself in her various Icarus-esque and time saving inventions, all of which, sadly, fail. Although having had a happy life with the storks, she still hopes to one day find her real family.

Then there's Nate Gardner, a young boy in suburban USA who only wants a baby brother, obviously believing that a baby brother would at least be someone to play with him and hang out with him, given the fact Nate's parents are over-obsessed with working 24/7 and oblivious to the fact Nate is even around. One day while digging around in the attic, Nate finds an old brochure about Stork Mountain and their baby delivery service. This is an answer to his prayers! Writing a letter to the company, Nate is very specific in his request - a baby brother with ninja skills.

Somehow Nate's letter finds its way to Stork Mountain and Tulip who Junior has relegated to the non-functioning mail room as a means to "solve the Tulip problem" and get his promotion. Excited by Nate's letter, Tulip isn't quite sure what to do about it and seeks counsel from Junior. Of course with Tulip's propensity for foibles and fun, she somehow activates the baby factory and pops out a baby! Realizing that this baby must be removed from Stork Mountain so as not to arouse suspicions of Hunter and his minion Pigeon Toady and thus ruin his chances for corporate glory, Junior decides to deliver the baby. And Tulip is all on board.

Written by Nic Stoller and co-directed by Stoller and Doug Sweetland, STORKS is entertaining and heartwarming, laced with madcap antics and humor that deliver a non-saccharine sweetness not often seen in films today, be they animated or live action. Although some of the story falls flat and seems to flounder - desperately in need of a "wolf pack" comedy boat to sail in and give it a lift - overall, the scripted humor and the visual slapstick is not only wonderfully integrated and interwoven, but catchy, entertaining and non-gratuitous.

As was easy to see with the audience during the screening I attended, the film has strengths that cater to each audience age demographic; notably, kids loved hearing the jokes about Junior peeing on himself, seeing Junior sniff a "dirty" diaper, everything wolf pack (which I personally thought was not only funny in concept, but visually interesting and entertaining), and yes, ninja skills! Physical sight gags play exceedingly well. On the other side, adults were laughing at the child-rearing antics of feeding, crying, diapers, safety, rattles, etc. Curious was the overall quiet response to scenes with the young human protagonist Nate, who puts the story in motion thanks to his ordering a baby brother from the STORKS. While Stoller and company take the Gardner family situation to the extreme (e.g., parents on blue-tooths sitting at kitchen table using phones to speak to each other instead of looking up from their laptops), the quiet of the audience made me wonder just how many kids in the audience see that every day and how many adults in the audience might be feeling a bit of guilt because that's what they do. Stoller hits some key emotional plot points keenly, but with inherent subtlety. Very nice construct.

Not to be overlooked is the thematic continuity about family and what defines a family. There is no blueprint for family anymore, and we see that come together in spades with Junior and Tulip developing a familial bond, as well as the global baby delivery with every ethnicity, gender, gender pairing, etc. all sharing two common ideologies - each is a family and everyone loves babies. (I love them, too; as long as I can return them to someone.)

Lovely are the baby touchstones in the baby factory with blankets, diapers, diaper pins, baby powder, sugar and spice and everything nice.

Visually stimulating, the energy and effervescence of Tulip is joyous and infectious. The animation of Tulip is wonderful, literally and figuratively full of wide-eyed innocence and wonder through her eyes and facial expressiveness, not to mention outstanding voicing by Katie Crown - bubblier than the finest champagne.

Wolf pack animation is beyond cool as they seamlessly transform into suspension bridges, boats, planes, submarines and trucks. Looks cool and is laugh-out-loud funny. And then we see an entire roof-top carnival atop and around Nate's house (a landing beacon for the STORKS and Nate's anticipated baby brother) that is just AWESOME! Terrific visual design all around with standout set pieces like the aforementioned.

Particularly effective is the use of color and the overall heightened exaggeration of the visuals. A lot of primary colors to engage kids, but then over-exaggeration of objects like stork mountain or the thousands of little gold ball birdies, or extra long legs, arms and wings. All has the feel of looking at the picture as if a kid because from a kid's eye view, everything looks bigger and exaggerated, e.g. , a baby is tiny and close to the ground, so looking upward at someone's legs they would seem sooooo long. Animation incorporates that kid's eye perception into the drawing so adults get the same exaggerated viewpoint. And of course, in the baby factory, the animation explodes into a solar system of colorful delight and eye-popping glee.

Editing keeps the film moving at a brisk clip, allowing time to breathe after rapid pace chases but without losing story momentum.

Character design and voice performance are well matched starting with Tulip and voice actor Katie Crown. As mentioned above, Crown has an effervescent and exuberant enthusiasm that is infectious. Hand-in-hand with Crown's work is that of Andy Samberg as Junior. With watchwords of exasperation and exaggeration, Samberg and Crown have a rhythm with a lyrical flow to it, capitalizing on the timing of both dialogue and physical comedy on screen.

Pigeon Toady comes out of left field with his Donald Trump hair and green feathers (obviously green with envy of the storks) and is a hoot. Perhaps my favorite voicing in the film, Stephen Kramer Glickman goes all out to embody and "sell" Toady's persona.

Be he a crane or a stork, Kelsey Grammar is Kelsey Grammar. No matter what he does, just his vocal intonation and elocution make one think of Frasier Crane and his too often self-aggrandizing pomposity, which makes Kelsey Grammar perfect as boss Hunter.

As Nate, Anton Starkman delights! His voicing and emotional inflection is kid perfect - from guilting his dad to being sneaky to disappointment to utter excitement and joy. One can't help but get the sense just in hearing Starkman's voice that playing Nate and working on this animated projected was a ball after his work in "American Horror Story"!

There is no doubt in my mind that kids and adults alike will be most enamored with the shape-shifting wolf pack led by Alpha Wolf and Beta Wolf, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, respectively. The slice and dice back and forth back repartee is rapier while key dialogue for the two beyond witty.

Adding their own brand of patter are Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell as Nate's parents, Sarah and Henry.

Final pin in the diaper is the score from Jeff and Mychael Danna! Long an admirer of their work, most recently in "The Good Dinosaur", their work here is no different. The entire score "feels" fun, capturing the tone of the story and the visuals as opposed to the music setting the tone with the rest of the film built upon that. The Dannas' music follows rather than lead the emotional bandwagon.

Get ready to fly to theatres this weekend with STORKS. It really does deliver.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Douglas Sweetland

Written by Nicholas Stoller

Voice Cast: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammar, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele

 

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