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September 23, 2016

This is shaping up to be a big year for Nicholas Stoller. After writing Zoolander 2 and both writing and directing Neighbors 2, Warner Animation has tapped him to write and co-direct their animated feature, Storks.

This is Warner’s first foray into traditional computer animation, as opposed to 2014’s The LEGO Movie. They’ve pulled in Pixar alum Doug Sweetland in to co-direct, and the movie certainly looks more polished than those of most also-ran animation studios. The script, on the other hand, shows a lot of Stoller’s own sense of humor, which we’ve seen in his other family-mode projects like The Muppets.

The cast is anchored by Andy Samberg, playing the up-and-coming stork Junior. He’s caught the eye of Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) and is next in line to replace him as the boss of the storks’ biggest operation: Baby delivery, it seems, was a high-risk, low-reward venture, especially after a stork was overwhelmed by cuteness and tried to kidnap one of them.

Speaking of whom, the orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) is still hanging around eighteen years later, much to Hunter’s chagrin. Now that she’s an adult, he wants Junior to get rid of her to prove he can be as much of a cutthroat CEO as Hunter is. But as clumsy and accident-prone as Tulip is, Junior can’t bring himself to kick her out, so he stashes her in the disused mail room.

Which is where Nate (Anton Starkman) comes in. With his parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) busy all the time as realtors, he wants a little brother to play with. He finds an old brochure and writes a letter to the storks. Which, with Tulip in the mail room, ends up in the hands of the one person in the place who doesn’t know to ignore it. And so Junior has to take care of both the baby and Tulip before Hunter finds out.

Junior is pretty much the same sort of outsized Samberg character he voiced in Hotel Transylvania, but now taking a leading role. Stoller allows him plenty of space, but does try to keep the movie from turning into the Andy Samberg show. Cutting away to the Nate storyline provides a nice counterpoint to Junior’s more outlandish hijinks, and there’s a rogues’ gallery of talent — from Key and Peele to Danny Trejo — working against him in the main story. But Crown is the real revelation here, with a timing and delivery that can match up to Samberg’s from start to finish.

In its latest incarnation, Warner Animation is too new to have really settled into a house style yet. Storks is perfectly adequate, and certainly as good or better than what we’re seeing out of studios other than Pixar and Dreamworks. But it pales in comparison to the studio’s debut, The LEGO Movie. Even The Master, the Lego Ninjago short attached to Storks, is more consistently and intensely funny. Warner may eventually come into its own with this smoother, more conventional style of computer-generated animation, but for the time being it seems their future is built out of Lego.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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