2016, PG, 100 min. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland. Starring Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 23, 2016

Storks flutters like a bird with a broken wing – it never quite gets off the ground. Try as it may, this middling feature from the Warner Animation Group, which released the everything-is-awesome The LEGO Movie a couple of years ago, falls short of the sterling standard set by Pixar and (on occasion) other studios. For starters, the script by co-director/screenwriter Stoller presumes kids’ familiarity with the feathery folklore of infant delivery, a shaky presumption in an age in which the internet and cable television have rendered the euphemistic birds and bees virtually extinct. (Not to mention something called sex education.) While adults may sentimentalize this old-fashioned notion of human conception, the movie fails to fully deliver on its premise. Yes, there’s something to say for the subtle way it defines family in terms of emotional connection, rather than only by bloodline, but it’s nowhere as smart as it could be. Animated films have trended toward a perceptive intelligence in the past few years, but Storks wades in shallow waters most of the time.

The story is a bit wonky. After a big-hearted stork refuses to deliver a newborn girl once attached to his cuddly package, a Fed Ex-like company called co-opts the big white birds to commercially transport online goods, leaving baby-making to more organic means. Eighteen years later, a winged carrier named Junior (Samberg) – a corporate drone, in every sense – reluctantly teams up with the now grownup Tulip (Crown) to defy this new business model and deliver a little one to a family in need of a new sibling. A bonding adventure predictably ensues as Junior and Tulip, who’s seemingly modeled on the ditzy TV-sitcom character Grace Adler, banter their way cross-country. The humor is mostly throwaway, good for a few chuckles but halfheartedly in service of the narrative. Like the journey depicted, the movie is all over the place by the end.

Things perk up when some hungry wolves threaten to devour the travelers, only to fall head over paws for the adorable special delivery wearing a diaper. The sketch comedy duo Key & Peele provide the voices for the two leaders of this pack. They’re howlingly good. Like the Minions in the Despicable Me features and the penguins in the Madagascar series, the lupine supporting players handily steal the show here. When they briefly reappear in the chaotic finale of swooping storks and toddling tots, the movie relegates them to the background. How odd. Storks could have used their wild lobo energy once again.

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Storks, Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland, Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman

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