Magazine article Variety

Storks

Magazine article Variety

Storks

Article excerpt

Storks

Directors: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland

Voices: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell

"Storks," the new digital cartoon about a crew of sharpbeaked, flamingo-legged birds who deliver babies (or used to; they now deliver consumer packages - but we'll get to that in a minute), is a strenuously unfunny animated comedy. These days, that's a relatively rare bird to encounter, since animated filmmaking right now tends to hit certain baseline slick levels of amiable generic cleverness. In "Storks," the jokes fall flat, but the pace is relentless, and those two things seem somehow intertwined, as if the filmmakers had convinced themselves that comedy that whips by fast enough won't go thud. Even if you watch "Storks" and think 4-year-olds will really dig it (and perhaps they will), frenetic and witless is not a great combination. The movie will probably enjoy a respectable opening weekend, but after that, the situation looks dicier. In the animated marketplace, quality still counts.

The film's weird absence of ingratiation begins with its premise, which takes off from established fairy-tale folklore in the vein of "Shrek" or any comedy built around, say, the lives of elves in the North Pole. In this case, however, something may stick a bit in your craw. Our stork heroes, led by Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg at his most geewhiz unironic and benign), once zipped through the skies toting babies in their beaks, the infants encased in what look like miniature space capsules. But that's all in the past. Now, the birds work for cornerstore.com, delivering random products out of an elongated, train-car-shaped warehouse perched high up in the clouds. They're couriers of internet consumerism, and the movie treats the situation they're in as a fall from grace, like the toys in "Toy Story 3" after they were relegated to a scruffy day-care playroom. We're supposed to be rooting for a return to the good old days.

But here, even the good old days seem a bit ... off. The myth of the stork delivering babies is certainly an entrenched part of our culture, and a long time ago it was a convenient wink of a way to explain procreation to young children. Taken literally, though, it presents problems. "Storks" truly does idealize a world in which parents get their little bundle of joy delivered, which makes you wonder about things like: Does actual birth not exist in this movie? It's not every high concept that rewrites the basic rules of the human race.

Things get spun into motion when Nate (Anton Starkman), the semi-ignored young son of two loving but beleaguered parents (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell) who run a real-estate agency out of their kitchen (think "Inside Out: The Sitcom") decides that he simply has to have a baby brother. Picking up on an old stork pamphlet that's lying around the house (the one that must have been tied to the stork delivering him), he sends a letter to stork central, requesting an infant, and the letter accidentally gets plopped into the old, shutdown stork Baby Factory, reactivating the machine. How, exactly, does this contraption work? The letter gets split into tiny cells, which then replicate, and replicate some more, and out pops . a real live baby! The first one produced by the factory in nearly 20 years. (But how did couples get their babies in the intervening time? …

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