There’s a random daftness, or a daft-randomness, that makes the offbeat animated comedy “Storks” fly.
I’m not saying it soars, but the throw-away lines, and odd inspired wacky conceit get this film, from the director of “Neighbors” and screenwriter of the recent “Muppets” movies, airborne.
Winning conceit one — Storks no longer “deliver” babies. There was “an incident,” so they’ve transitioned into hauling packages for cornerstone.com, an Amazon-like retailer where avian non-union labor is cherished.
Winning conceit two — The reason for the “incident,” the reason storks can no longer be trusted to tote infants is a malady that they share with humans and even, it turns out, wolves. Babies make everyone melt with their cuteness.
Junior (Andy Samberg) is a stork on the rise, a delivering machine who has utterly absorbed All Storks’ mantra — “Make a plan. Stick to the plan. Always deliver!”
The Boss (Kelsey Grammer) sees Junior as management material. All he has to do is fire the one human on the packaging/delivering assembly line. “The Orphan Tulip” was a botched delivery, years ago, a teenager who never got to her family and now spends her time trying to fit in, invent ways of flying (like storks). But she (veteran voice actress Katie Crown) is a klutz, and like Big Bosses everywhere, Boss doesn’t have the guts to cut her loose himself.
But “The Orphan Tulip” (“Just ‘Tulip’s fine. ‘Orphan’ hurts my heart. A little bit.”) makes one last mistake. She processes a letter to “The Stork” from a little boy whose realtor-parents are too busy to play with him, so he wants a baby brother “with Ninja skills!” The Babyworks are cranked up, a baby pops out and Junior has a BIG problem to cover up and a baby to deliver.
With Tulip’s help.
“Storks” teeters along as a dizzy “quest” comedy after that, with the story cutting back and forth between Junior and Tulip’s travel travails and the home life of The Gardners (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell), where the parents humor little Nate (Anton Starkman) and his belief that they need to prep for an answer to his letter to The Stork.
Junior and Tulip? They crash land in the frozen north and are chased by wolves. And those scenes are some of the most inspired moments of animated comedy to come along in years.
The two top dogs (Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) bicker over who gets to eat the baby, but succumb, as dogs do, to the gurgles and giggles. Awwww.
They give chase when the impromptu “family” of Junior, Tulip and the babe get away. Wolf teamwork is embodied by the pack gathering to form whatever shape they need to continue the pursuit. The command and response is straight out of “300.”
“WOLVES! Make a bridge!”
The film peaks with their scenes and tends to bog down a bit after that. But I laughed out loud at all of Nate’s guilt-trip-the-parents zingers, efforts to get them to take out their earpieces and pay attention to him.
“You’ll blink, and I’ll be in college….Dad, you’ll be my idol for like, two more years…I’m not a jerk teen yet. Fleeting moments! Precious memories!”
And Stoller and Samberg’s comfort zone — more PG-13 — pops up.
“Is your seat wet?”
“Yeah. That’s my urine. I peed myself.”
It’s not as start-to-finish funny as Warner Animation’s “Lego Movie”, and that also goes for the quirky Lego cartoon short — basically the chicken-botched filming of the opening credits to a martial arts movie.
But there’s wit, warmth and invention here, enough to make you hopeful for a Warner Animation future.
Because, those wolves? Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and the other Looney Tunes would have been happy to call them their own.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild action and some thematic elements
Cast: The voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo
Credits: Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, script by Nicholas Stoller. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 1:29