THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
This past August, Greg Tiernan, who directed a long series of Thomas the Tank Engine videos, and Conrad Vernon, who made several popular DreamWorks animated features including Shrek 2, co-helmed the R-rated comedy Sausage Party. Now, Nicholas Stoller, maker of such raunchy comedies as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Neighbors has, with Doug Sweetland, directed the kid-friendly Storks. There may be something to be said for this sort of reverse approach. Sausage Party had an appealing level of sweetness underneath its very visible filthiness, whereas Storks benefits from a hip sense of humor without ever being inappropriate for families.
The premise is that storks no longer deliver babies, they deliver packages. Andy Samberg provides the voice of Junior, a stork working for an Amazon-like distributor run by Hunter (Kelsey Grammer). He's one step away from a big promotion, but there's a final hurdle he must clear: Hunter wants him to fire Tulip (Katie Crown), the company's sole human employee. She's a remnant from the early days, left behind when the stork in charge of delivering her broke the beacon indicating where she was to go. Junior can't bring himself to dismiss Tulip, so he gives her a low-level position answering letters. When a little human boy named Nate Gardner (Anton Starkman) orders a baby, she accidentally puts the order through. Junior knows they have to deliver that infant before Hunter finds out what has happened. Meanwhile, Nate and his parents (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell), prepare for their bundle of joy.
Storks is frequently hilarious, thanks to the inventive comic predicaments in Stoller's screenplay. Junior and Tulip not only have to contend with an occasionally fussy baby, but also a pack of wolves (the leaders of which are voiced by Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele) who want to keep the baby for themselves. The wolves have an amusing ability to work together in unexpected ways, the results of which provide the movie with its biggest laughs. There's also Pigeon Toady (hysterically voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman). He's Hunter's right-hand bird, a bizarre little creature who calls everyone “bruh,” tries to appear much cooler than he actually is, and is intent on exposing Tulip's mistake.
When the film isn't focused on the birds, it's focused on Nate. Part of the reason he wants a sibling is because his parents are workaholics who rarely make time to play with him. This subplot – and the way it resolves itself – will strike a chord with young viewers who sometimes feel lonely because they're only children and/or don't get as much of Mom and Dad's attention as they'd like.
As fun as it is, Storks doesn't quite reach the same heights as the best recent animated features (Zootopia or Inside Out, for instance). That's because the characters, while likable, aren't developed terribly deeply. We never really learn a whole lot about why a promotion is so important to Junior, nor are Tulip's feelings about having been left behind dealt with in more than a surface-level fashion. The plot could have used more setup of the relationship between Junior and Hunter, too. Essentially, it's just one big chase with the heroes trying to outrun the wolves and Pigeon Toady.
There is, however, more than enough about Storks that works to make it worthwhile. The animation is bright and vibrant, the voice acting is terrific, and it's often very funny. A family film this charming is always a treat.
( out of four)
Storks arrives on DVD, Blu-ray combo pack, and 3D Blu-ray combo pack on December 20. The 3D version looks fantastic. As the movie has a number of scenes involving flight, the effect really adds something. Certain other moments are clearly designed to capitalize on the extra dimension, especially the finale, which involves babies zipping down a conveyor belt. The 3D image on the Blu-ray is bright and clear. This is a great way to watch the film.
Bonus features on the disc start off with a feature-length audio commentary from directors Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland. There are additionally ten minutes of deleted scenes, all in the storyboard stage, that can be played with or without commentary. The most amusing of them has the wolves conducting an impromptu therapy session with Junior and Tulip. Another one that finds Pigeon Toady encountering a group of vultures is also very funny. On a similar note, there are a couple minutes of fake bloopers that are amusing to watch.
Pigeon Toady pops up again in a short cartoon entitled “Guide to Your New Baby.” This hilarious two-minute toon has him displaying a comic lack of knowledge on how to care for an infant. Another cartoon, “The Master: A LEGO Ninjago Short,” features the popular building brick characters in a farcical tale that replicates the style and sensibility of The LEGO Movie. It gets big laughs. Finally, there's a music video for Jason DeRulo's “Kiss the Sky” from the soundtrack.
The bonus features are very well done and enjoyable. Storks, particularly on 3D Blu-ray, will make a solid addition to your family's movie library.
Storks is rated PG for mild action and some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!