You know the drill: An upcoming animated movie releases a trailer, filled with pop songs (maybe its a current hit; maybe it’s a Smash Mouth song), wacky animals and recognizable celebrity voices. It drops a few kid-friendly snarky lines here and there – the dog/cat/emu that just skid face-first into a door? It, like, meant to do that! Then it’s all over but the first-weekend grosses. Occasionally, a sociological Mickey gets slipped into these filmic equivalents of fizzy drinks; seriously, who’d have thought that Zootopia would double as one of the year’s best anti-Trump screeds? But unless the name Pixar or Laika is attached, you know what you’re getting. You take the kids. You count the minutes.
There was no reason to think Storks, a toon about a wading bird (Andy Samberg) and an orphaned human being raised by storks (Katie Crown, a TV animation MVP) having to deliver an accidentally factory-manufactured human baby, would be anything different. And in a lot of ways, it isn’t. The movie makes good on the unspoken agreement between animation producers and audience members: You distract the youngsters with bright colors and family-friendly jokes, throw in a moral and we give you lots of cash. Even the central concept, based on the age-old notion that bundled babies are brought by beak from an assembly line to expectant parents, couldn’t be more innocuous. (If anyone under the age of 10 is reading this review: Yes, that is indeed how babies are made. It’s called science. Go ask your mom.)
But as with a lot of things involving birth, the delivery counts for a lot. And whether it’s because the film is written and co-directed by Nicolas Stoller, who’s better known for live-action comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or because Samberg treats his voiceover duties less like a job-for-hire than a less profane version of Lonely Island loser-dweebs, there’s a genuinely anarchic quality to all the anthropomorphized absurdity here. Forget the toothless digs at Amazon (storks are out of the baby business and now deliver packages for a vast conglomerate named Cornerstore.com) and the pigeon villain whose caricatured Cali douche-bro accent wears out its welcome long before the comeuppance and the credits. Most of the movie doubles down on the mania and lacing the sugar-rush sensation with an almost lysergic sense of silliness. Anyone can have their stranded-in-the-wild heroes chased by a pack of wolves. It takes a special movie to have those same feral beasts yell out “Form of a wolf submarine!” during their pursuit, jump together to form a completely predator-based underwater vessel and speed off after their prey. Somewhere, Tex Avery’s lolling-tongue lupus is totally Rudy-clapping.
It’s these types of non sequitur gags, as well as the screwball speed with which the stars spit out sharper-than-usual dialogue (referred to as Orphan Tulip, Crown’s character cheerily replies “Just Tulip is fine, ‘Orphan’ hurts my heart!”), that distinguish Storks from the usual bright, shiny studio product. If anything, Stoller and his directing partner, Pixar veteran Doug Sweetland, are following the lead of producers Chris Miller and Phil Lord, who broke the corporate mold with The Lego Movie and proved you can inject a sense of unpredictability into these multiplex monoliths without alienating the masses. Even Kelsey Grammer’s basso-voiced boss trying to cover up the accidental babymaking and a B plot involving Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston’s workaholic parents get chances to go nuts in a way most kids’ movies couldn’t accommodate. (And bonus points for slyly slipping in those same-sex couples in the film’s climactic parent-athon.) This isn’t going to revolutionize animated movies. It doesn’t need to. Storks is happy to give you 90 minutes of family-friendly entertainment that doesn’t make you feel diabetic. That, in itself, deserves a “Congratulations” cigar – probably an exploding one.