“Where do babies come from?”
For a long time, many parents have dreaded that very question from their younglings. One of the most well-known answers may well be, “The stork.” Where this little white lie originated is actually pretty fascinating once you start reading up on it (beginning with Greek mythology, where storks actually stole babies, to Hans Christian Anderson’s folktale, “The Storks,” about delivering babies to families with good children and dead babies to those with bad children… old-school fairytales — gotta love ’em!), but regardless, it’s used now to quell a child’s imagination until they’re old enough to know the truth. Storks, the new animated tale about this very topic, takes this interesting idea and creates a very lovely, imaginative story that dives deep into some well-meaning and effective metaphors.
Babies, according to writer/director Nicholas Stoller, aren’t only an extremely difficult “product” to transport, but they’re also deadly in their cuteness, causing anyone — including storks — to be driven mad with attachment over their little bundles of joy. When one stork (voiced by Danny Trejo) does just that, accidentally destroying the GPS beacon that tells the storks where to deliver the baby (thus breaking their one and only rule of making every delivery), Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) stops the production of babies to begin delivering packages for a huge corporate conglomerate known as Cornerstone.com. It works wonders for eighteen years, but when Hunter is ready to pass the reigns of boss over to the stork’s best delivery… bird… Junior (Andy Samberg), there’s just one small item they need to take care of before that happens: Orphan Tulip (Katie Crown).
Tulip (“Orphan” makes her heart hurt), it turns out, is the baby that never got delivered and was raised by the storks. But now that she’s eighteen, it’s time to “liberate” her and send her on her way. Which is a good thing, since she tends to wreck all kinds of havoc, effectively causing sales to plummet whenever she tries to help in any way. Instead of firing her like he’s supposed to, though, Junior sends her to work in the letter sorting department, a now defunct branch of the company. Little does he know that in a small suburban town, a young boy, Nate Gardner (Anton Starkman), comes across one of the stork’s old flyers and writes to them for a new baby brother. This very letter is accidentally placed in the baby-maker, forcing Junior to join forces with Tulip to deliver the baby before Hunter finds out what happened.
The overall plot is well-told, refraining from sidestepping too much into off-beat territory as Junior and Tulip go through their series of misadventures, which includes an amusing Inspector Gadget-inspired wolf-pack (my particular favorite is the wolf submarine) that want to keep the baby for themselves, and a pack of kidnapping Penguins that commit themselves to a marvelously executed “silent” battle with Junior and Tulip after they finally get the baby to sleep. The majority of jokes — which include a lot of cleverly placed meta references to cartoonish situations and plot twists — hit just the right notes, keeping you invested in the growing relationship between the pair during their quest to deliver the baby to her rightful home.
What’s most impressive about the film, though, is the delivery of the story’s emotional impact. It’s very understated, layered in a nuanced subtlety. One of the reasons Hunter gives for stopping the delivering of babies is that there are other means for which parents can receive a child. Now, depending on your point of view, and what messages you pull from the dialogue and the story itself, this statement might be taken in a couple of different ways. But the way I saw it, the storks come off as a sort of adoption agency, delivering babies to couples who can’t have a child biologically. As evidenced by their marketing, the storks were there to bring joy to the lives of any couple who want a child of their very own. So when the storks stop production on babies, these couples have no other access to becoming parents.
There’s also a secondary layer conveying the intricate dynamics of family that plays into the adoption aspect of the film very well. You don’t have to be blood to be family. Heck, you don’t even have to be the same species to be a family (and I’m sure there are a lot of pet owners would agree with that statement). This idea has a strong impact in the development of Junior and Tulip’s relationship, turning their very unorthodox partnership into a family.
But more than that, Storks is about cherishing the time you have with your kids. Nate’s parents, Sarah ad Henry (Jennifer Aniston and Phil Dunphy… er… Ty Burrell, respectively) are workaholic realtors who have very little time to get off their bluetooths to spend with their son. It’s the reason he wants a little brother so badly; he just wants a best friend to play with. After informing them of what he did, Sarah and Henry finally wake up to their subconscious inattentiveness and help him develop a very intricate landing pad playground around their home. Sarah and Henry know the storks no longer deliver babies, but they are willing to go along with the idea because they finally understand how important this time is to bond with their son.
With so much going on under the hood, the colorful world of Storks becomes icing on a cake that isn’t without its flaws (the annoying pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman) comes to mind as one huge dud of a character), but is relateably sweet and delicious, and delivers the goods we didn’t know we wanted.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include Deep Water Horizon, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Masterminds. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.