THE GIST: Ironically, this movie carries some absolutely beautiful moments regarding family, children, and of course, babies, while being wrapped in deplorable packaging and partnered with asinine juvenile humor. It is worth seeing, just make sure to think about something else for about a third of this film.
Why do we tell children that babies come from storks, or about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the positive attributes of capitalism, etc.? Really, why in the hell do we even have children or spend time together as a family? Also…why are big box stores sometimes bad? And I guess, being an orphan is hard? I’m fairly certain these are all the themes/questions that Storks tries to address. It is honestly really hard to tell.
Animated family movies are a really difficult niche. It’s a genre dominated by the 800-pound gorilla that is Pixar. But in recent years, more competition has cropped up, as studios have discovered the plus of huge margins that come with relatively low budgets. And while they could just be churning out films to make a quick buck (usually found in sequels, see Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3, Shrek 3 and 4, etc.), some are legitimately deep and meaningful pieces. Put Pixar aside for a second, and we’ve got How to Train Your Dragon, which deals with animal rights, racism, gender norms, and/or being yourself in the face of unrealistic family expectations. Warner Bros. Animation (WBA) last film, The Lego Movie, had…well pretty much all of those too, plus a focus on capitalism and the commodification of creativity.
The Lego Movie was great not just because of its mature themes though; it had really wonderful humor that played on both nostalgia to the IP and self-referential playfulness. So then how and why is Storks, WBA’s follow up, so…confusing?
The plot, in sum, follows Junior (Andy Samberg) as a stork who is set to take over as boss of an Amazon-surrogate company. Before he can, the current boss (Kelsey Grammer), tasks with him firing Tulip (Katie Crown), a well-meaning but ultimately clumsy and eccentric orphan, who is a leftover of the time when the storks used to deliver babies to folks before starting…Amazon I guess. This plan goes awry when a young boy, Nate (Anton Starkman), writes Tulip, who inadvertently creates a new baby, forcing her and Junior to deliver it.
The plot that follows Tulip and Junior is usually fun, and only grows as the film goes on. The jokes become funnier, and it hits it high point when they begin to operate as surrogate parents, often mirroring some of the most recognizable and humorous tropes of parenthood. Mirroring this plot is Nate, who drags his career-focused parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) into helping him prepare the house for their baby delivery, often by quietly murmuring wise-beyond-his-years sentiments of parenthood and growing up (very reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes). This is the real highlight of the film. It is never dull, feels very genuine, and is incredibly fun.
And then there’s the third subplot, and the super confusing scattered themes. The subplot focuses on Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman), who has aspirations of becoming the boss, but can’t help but be…annoying, juvenile, and so out of place it changed the whole feeling of the film. The character has a voice and character that I cannot being to presume the intended audience for. It feels like a character written by an older adult man, who thinks the character will appeal to kids, because it’s what he thinks millennial kids are like. Which is confusing because millennials aren’t the target audience here: Gen Z’s are, and their X or Millennial parents. In any case, this character alone comes close to sinking the film. Perhaps it just isn’t for me. Maybe this character appeals to the films intended children audience, and they find him hilarious. Either way, it completely halted the pacing and tone of the film whenever the character was present. In addition to this unfortunate subplot are some stories about Tulip being an orphan that never quite connect, a confusing little piece on flightless birds that feels like it’s nearing some message about othering or differently abled folks but never gets there, and the confusing and looming big-box-is-bad feeling that just never gets touched on again (also drones).
Leaving the theater, I was conflicted. It had some truly beautiful moments. There is a pair of scenes in particular, one in which Nate asks why his parents would go through the trouble of indulging his fantasies, and another in which there is a montage of parents and babies that is filled with same-sex, interracial, single, different bodied, etc. etc. parents. And these scenes are beautiful, touching, and rival Pixar. The film is worth seeing for some of those moments alone, and I’m sure parents would find it even more meaningful. But I’m not sure it outweighs the cons, the obvious flaws, the forced humor and strange pacing. Wait for Netflix on this movie. But when the time comes, absolutely take the time to watch it.