Writer-director Nicholas Stoller is best known for writing and directing movies with people like Judd Apatow (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Seth Rogen (Neighbors), so it's bit of a jolt to see him behind a movie that doesn't prominently feature drugs or bodily functions.
While Stoller successfully revived Jim Henson's creations with The Muppets, his new animated comedy involving the birds that used to deliver baby people suffers a little from not being able to indulge in the sort of humor that terrifies parents and secretly amuses them.
83 Cast: Voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman
Co-directors: Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland
Rating: PG, for mild action and some thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
At the beginning of Storks, Stoller and co-director Doug Sweetland reveal the birds no longer bring bundles of joy to humans' doorsteps because it's now more profitable to compete with Amazon. After all, consumer goods usually don't require the gentle care that babies require.
Another factor is that a rogue stork named Jasper (Danny Trejo) got too enamored of baby Tulip (Katie Crown), so the storks ended up having to raise her for themselves.
Now that the baby operation has stopped, eager courier Junior (Andy Samberg) is in line to run day-to-day operations.
It's a cushy job, but there's a catch.
The company's chairman, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), wants him to fire Tulip, who as an adult spends most of her time making impressive machines that inadvertently wreck profit margins. It's a tall order for the softhearted fowl.
Perhaps Junior could have acted more quickly. Tulip takes a letter for a small boy named Nate Gardner (Anton Starkman) who wants a little sibling. She reactivates the baby making machine, and now she and Junior have to get the bundle of joy to its new parents before Hunter finds out.
Adding to the crisis is that Junior has recently injured his wing.
As with anything involving babies, there's a surplus of cute to go around in Storks. You also can't go wrong with casting Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (aka Key and Peele) as two not-completely heartless wolves.
Despite a good deal of chaotic action and visual overkill (nothing is small in this movie), the story feels oddly thin and the running time feels padded. Waiting for Tulip to transform from a well-meaning bungler to a hero gets tiring, and after a while one begins to side with the ruthless Hunter.
In addition, the portions of the movie that deal with Nate's parents (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell) make Storks feel like a long layover. The two are so career obsessed that they continue to ignore Nate's wishes for a brother.
One wonders if Mom and Dad would actually be worse parents with two youngsters to raise neglectfully and if it might have helped the film if it acknowledged that babies can be as frustrating as they are adorable.
Dealing with that fact actually results in Stoller's most inspired sequence. Junior and Tulip have to defend Nate's new sibling against violent penguins (kind of like the ones in Madagascar), but the child is sleeping.
The combatants have to figure out how to defeat each other without waking the infant, so the battle achieves a sort of comic epiphany that's hard to repeat in the rest of the movie.
With more kid-friendly sequences like that, Stoller could become a comedy grown-up.
MovieStyle on 09/23/2016
Print Headline: Storks