Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Storks (2016) - Movie Review

When I was a young-in and still na├»ve to the world around me, I had some… interesting ideas about where babies came from. For some reason, I was under the impression that when a couple is married, the wife’s wedding ring sends a little UFO into the stomach which creates the baby. Feel free to laugh at this in all its preciousness, because I honestly never stopped. What I’m getting at with all this is that, because of my own misconceptions about conception, recurring ideas like “storks deliver babies” don’t seem as ludicrous to me as they probably should. Not that I’m advocating lying to children or anything, but I do understand not telling them the whole truth when they’re too young to understand ideas like sex. I mean, hell, some adults are still struggling to deal with sex in its many bizarre facets. Considering all this, today’s film centred on probably the oldest wives’ tale involving baby-making already gets the head-tilt seal of approval. Does it get any other seals of approval?

The plot: Long ago, storks used to deliver babies to willing families. Nowadays, under the leadership of Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), they deliver packages for Cornerstore.com. When Junior (Andy Samberg) and human orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) accidently restart the baby-making machine, they have to deliver it before their boss finds out.

The cast is full of SNL alumni as per any comedic animated film of late, and it’s about as mixed as any given episode of current-era SNL. Samberg is alright but nothing all that spectacular, which makes my eventual look at Popstar a little disconcerting. Crown does well as the fish-out-of-water looking for a home, as dull as that general character background is. Anton Starkman as the kid who sets everything in motion is good enough for a focal point character, and Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston work very nicely as his parents. Grammer is a bit of fun as the villain, Key & Peele as the leaders of the wolves nail the dog-like mannerisms, Stephen Kramer Glickman and Danny Trejo as a purportedly psychotic stork is glorious just for that descriptor alone. Also, shout-out to Awkwafina as one of the comic relief birds working at Cornerstore.com; I will never get tired of learning the woman
behind this is now making a mark in Hollywood. Rock on.

Warner Animation Group is the dark horse of the current animation scene, at least considering this is their second feature under that moniker. Their first, as the marketing department desperately wants you to remember, was The Lego Movie, a film that will likely go down in history as a defining moment in computer animation. It also has far less to do with that film than it does with the recent Smurfs films, as this is actually animated by Sony Pictures Animation rather than Animal Logic. It shows because this has the same round and bouncy to the point of maddeningly basic style of animation. It’s basically the default for family-friendly CGI; not great but you could certainly do far worse.

The animal textures are fine, if a bit plush in places, and the detailing elsewhere is perfectly serviceable. Honestly, it feels like all of the manpower was put into the wolf pack, because it is there where we get some legitimate creativity and flair. That bit about the wolves forming a submarine from the trailer? The transformation bit is a running gag, leading to easily the biggest laughs of the entire film. If this spawns a spin-off movie like almost everything else does, please call it Wolves and I will buy my ticket for it now.

This is a film for children that deals with where babies come from. How do they explain it? Well, it’s actually quite deftly handled. The main reason why the storks and their baby-making machine (which is powered by letters, apparently) stopped is because, in the film’s own words, “there are other ways to make babies”. Hell, in the scene where we see the machine in action, it animates the creation of a baby in a very biological way, showing it as a form of mitosis with the letter instead of a cell. That alone is worth commending, but then we get into how this film shows babies in relation to their parents, and all of a sudden Nicholas Stoller’s name in the credits begins to make a lot more sense; the guy has a knack for surprising observations in his films. In much the same way that the creation of the babies is left ambiguous, the same is done for the idea of what a parent is.

Throughout the film, the baby McGuffin (called Diamond Destiny, a name that will actively increase your blood sugar every time you hear it) ends up with many groups that could be considered caregivers, both in reputation and in how they interact with the baby. Its unbearable cuteness, the maternal/paternal instinct to protect the cuteness, the feeling of isolation that leads one to wanting more cuteness around them, even recognizing the stereotype that women are the only ones with any actual responsibility as a parent (complete with punching the guy stupid enough to say it); this is remarkably sharp in how it portrays parental relationships.

Such a shame that the humour doesn’t quite add up. Despite sharing the writer/director with the Bad Neighbours films, this isn’t Point Grey material. Hell, this falls short of Fifty Shades Of Grey material. I say that because this follows the usual line-o-rama style of endless bickering between characters. Except in other better films where the dialogue at least has direction to it so that it continues the story, here it just feels they’re spinning their wheels until the plot catches up to them. I know that animating around the actors and their words is as old an animation trick as animation itself, but it helps to apply that idea to words that are worth hearing and actors capable of delivering them. It’s all aimless, which is seriously jarring when you consider how well this film does with its subtext.

It’s like a film that was meant to be a more mature meditation on the prospects of child rearing, and then the jokes got written in as an afterthought. I remember a fellow critic describing the writing process as usually involving doctoring by uncredited writers who specialize in action, jokes, etc. If that is indeed the case, and bear in mind my own inexperience in certain mechanisms of filmmaking, then they apparently found the Back-Alley Script Doctor because these jokes fall flat a lot more often than a purportedly buddy comedy should.

All in all, this is a very well-written treatise on parenthood trapped in a rather weak family film. Sure, the Wolves are freaking hilarious and show that Nicholas Stoller has some creativity in the CGI realm, but otherwise it just falls a bit short overall. Not to the point of annoyance, as this is still very watchable for a family screening; just that it feels lacking.

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