storkscoverGrade: C+/C
Entire family: Yes
2016, 87 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG for mild action and some thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

When an animated feature’s main weakness is the premise or basic plot, I can’t help but wonder, Who in the world green-lit this project?

Storks has a decent cast of voice talents, including Andy Samberg, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Key & Peele, Danny Trejo, and Kelsey Grammer. The characters are drawn and animated in accomplished fashion. Yet, while the birds in the film take flight, the film itself never really gets too high off the ground.

Storks received a 63 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com, meaning 63 out of 100 critics liked it enough to give it an average score of 6 out of 10. Forty-two percent pronounced it rotten, and I’m inclined to side with that group—though I’d use the word “disappointing” instead of “rotten.” I’m always leery when the writer and director are the same person, and writer-director Nicholas Stoller has had his share of hits (The Muppets) and misses (Gulliver’s Travels, Zoolander 2). Storks isn’t a complete miss, but it’s not a hit either. It’s a little too manic and shrill too much of the time, without nearly enough spaces to absorb or appreciate what’s going on.

Part of the problem is intended audience. While Disney aims for the child in everyone and with The Secret Life of Pets Universal set their sights on animal lovers and pet owners, Storks couldn’t seem to decide whether it’s a retro takeoff on American culture geared for a wink-wink audience in the know, or a silly-but-sweet story of the flapping-arms variety that’s typically for children. It seems mostly aimed at children, but do today’s youngsters even know about the clichéd euphemistic explanation of how babies come into the world?

storksscreenWe’re told that storks used to deliver babies from their base at Stork Mountain until the CEO of the operation, Hunter (Grammer), decided it was more profitable to deliver packages instead and discontinued the baby line. But one infant remained behind—kind of like Buddy in Elf—and Tulip (Katie Crown) grew up with the storks and now tries her darnedest to please. Inexplicably, a young boy in the human world finds an old brochure from Cornerstone baby delivery service and places an order . . . and in a fuzzy sequence Tulip and Junior discover a shut-down baby factory on the Cornerstone property that is somehow activated by the order that she had dropped into a chute. If you can accept any of that, what follows is an episodic account of how Tulip and Junior (Samberg), who as top delivery stork has the same swagger as Sully in Monsters, Inc., try to deliver that baby.

Thrown into the plot hamper is a side story about Junior being asked to fire Tulip because of her antics and inventions, and a subsequent need to board her flying machine because of his broken wing. Yet it all feels pretty standard except for a pack of wolves that, like nanobots, can transform themselves into such things as a suspension bridge and a submarine. That’s the most inventive aspect of the film, compared to an army of hostile penguins and a baby-making machine that runs out of control, all of which seem a little far-fetched and yet familiar. After that it gets even muddier and crazier—more uneven, too. The jokes seem less labored than in the early going, but the laughs are still too far apart. Meanwhile, it’s hard to shake an obnoxious little green bird who has a little too much gravel in his craw and keeps shouting. And Tulip, whose manic delivery and mannerisms might remind you of the younger sister in Frozen, often seems out-of-place in this labored animated comedy. It’s a kids’ movie trying to pass as family fun with the inclusion of a few caustic elements, when what would really make it suitable for the whole family was a more solid and inventive premise and plot.

Ultimately, this is a film that tries too hard. It seems forced, especially in the first half. That said, you should know that the public has been kinder to Storks than critics. Metacritic scored it a 5.6 out of 10, while more than 12,500 readers at the Internet Movie Database collectively rated it a 7 out of 10.

Language: Other than an out-of-place “suck it,” there’s nothing offensive at all
Sex: Again, nothing here
Violence: Wolves threaten and there’s also Three Stooges-style cartoon violence where a penguin uses a fork as a weapon
Adult situations: Nothing . . . unless the film prompts your kids to ask questions about where babies come from
Takeaway: Young family members will enjoy this more than the ones actually old enough to know where babies come from

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