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Warner Home Video
4K UHD Released: 12/20/2016
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/26/2016
When a live-action film has an odd assortment of characters or incredibly bizarre lines of dialogue, we think little of it. After all, these are real actors who have the capacity to improvise or deviate from the script to give the movie a weird little twist. When an animated film has unabashedly strange moments though, the audience can't help but wonder why? After all, animators have to make conscious choices about how they manipulate their characters and scenes, which makes improvisation in animation something of a rarity. So when a character busts out non-sequiturs or a scene takes a bizarre turn, this is not a spur-of-the-moment decision: this is the product of thousands of hours of animation and direction. This mind-boggling concept takes center-stage in Storks, an animated film that somehow manages to be overwhelmingly formulaic while also incorporating a weirdness that might soar right over the audience's heads.
Storks opens with narration by the film's protagonist, a white stork named Junior (Andy Samberg) who is the top delivery bird at an enormous company called Cornerstore. He explains how Cornerstore used to be the world's primary supplier of babies before shifting to commercial production. Junior is hoping to be promoted to head of the company by current boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), who promises the position to Junior if he fires Tulip (Katie Crown), an orphaned human who was never delivered to her family after her homing device was smashed by a protective stork. While trying to get Tulip out of the way, Junior and Tulip accidentally allow a letter from a lonely ten-year-old boy Nate (Anton Starkman) to enter the defunct baby-making machine. Knowing he will be fired for allowing a baby to be produced, Junior reluctantly teams up with Tulip to deliver the baby before his promotion on Monday. Their efforts to deliver the baby to Nate and his workaholic parents Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) and Henry (Ty Burrell) are thwarted by maternal wolves Alpha and Beta (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), natural disasters, and a nosy, singing pigeon who also wants the big promotion (Stephen Kramer Glickman).
Storks comes from the company that made The Lego Movie, which contained moments of unbridled insanity and weirdness that seemed completely random instead of planned and painstakingly designed. Like Storks though, The Lego Movie had a formulaic story: average guy becomes entangled in a prophecy, girl who has been training for the prophecy her whole life becomes his mentor/love interest, corrupt villain is taken down by a ragtag team of losers (except for Batman). However, The Lego Movie managed to invert a lot of the tropes surrounding this tired plot and even surprised audiences with its clever twist and message of creativity--in addition to being incredibly funny. Storks is similar to its equally kinetic animated blockbuster in many ways, but it does not work quite as well as an engaging story.
This may be the result of Storks' plot, which should just be christened the Pixar Formula at this point. Stop me if you've heard this before: two contrasting personalities have to team up and complete a goal before a certain deadline, usually at the benefit of one character and not the other. This marriage of buddy comedy and dramatic odyssey has been a staple of Pixar films for two decades now (just think of how Pixar characters almost always come in pairs--Woody and Buzz, Mike and Sully, Marlin and Dory), and while it usually works as the foundation for the film, it cannot survive creatively on its own. The directors and animators have to be willing to put their own original spin on the formula to make it intriguing and accessible to its jaded audiences.
While Storks definitely succeeds in putting creative touches on its characters and situations, it fails to expand upon the Pixar Formula. Junior and Tulip go through the motions on their journey, stopping at the Pixar well with every scene change for another cliché: going down a waterfall, the argument that splits the team apart, the moment where they realize that they are like a family now. It is painfully predictable in that aspect. Not to mention the tired subplot of Nate and his work-obsessed parents, who only really exist to provide a catalyst for Junior and Tulip's mission. Every time the film stops to check in on their family, the pacing slackens and viewer catches themselves consulting their watches, something that almost never happens when the movie returns to Junior and Tulip.
The mediocre plot, however, is coupled with some of the weirdest and oddly effective humor in current animation. Like The Lego Movie, Storks isn't afraid to bombard the viewer with quick witticisms or weird observations. And while these jokes don't always stick the landing, a lot of them do get a laugh, especially the more bizarre moments. For example, the pack of ferocious wolves that hunt down Tulip and Junior have the power to come together to create submarines and planes with their bodies. This running gag never loses its punch because the movie isn't afraid to keep the weirdness rolling and build upon it creatively. Andy Samberg does a terrific job with Junior, bringing a sort of motor-mouthed, sarcastic quality to his voice that forces the audience to pause and go "wait, did he just say that?" after almost every line. The little pigeon that wants Junior's job often comes straight out of left-field with odd comments and weird mannerisms that you can't believe an actual person thought of and decided to incorporate into a movie (including a moment where the pigeon starts singing "How Do You Like Me Now?" under his breath, which evolves into a full-on music video within five seconds). These scenes make the movie feel much more original and even offer a few surprises that one wouldn't except from something so aggressively formulaic.
Storks is far from a revelation, but it is definitely an entertaining experience. The animation is clean and surprisingly fluid, which is definitely a pleasant surprise after the purposeful stiffness of The Lego Movie, and the character designs are familiar without being too derivative. While this movie lacks a true moral or believable villain, it still manages to close the film with the message that anyone who wants a baby and is ready to love him or her should have one (the ending montage shows babies being delivered to same-sex couples and single parents, a sweet touch on the movie's part). If you're looking for something at the level of The Lego Movie, you might be disappointed, but if you just want a simple, hilarious, and shamelessly weird film about the true meaning of family, Storks definitely delivers.
Storks made me forget how babies are made on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a 2160p HD transfer. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, as the tones are very bright and bold, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very impressive, and we can see the minute work which went into the animation. The depth is also noteworthy, even in this 2D version. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.4 Mbps). The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects really jump out during the action sequences. We get some nicely detailed effects at times and the subwoofer adds to the moments. The audio isn't overwhelming, but it does work.
Warner Home Video has also released Storks in a separate set which includes a Blu-ray 3D. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27/12 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, and the colors look very good. However, the picture looks noticeably flat. There is some depth at times, but a lot of it doesn't look that much different from the 2D version. I didn't notice any time that the image felt that it was leaping off of the screen. Given the clarity of the 4K, I was very disappointed in the look of the 3D release. The audio track is the same as the one described above.
The extras here are found on the Blu-ray Disc which is included. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Co-Director Douglas Sweetland, Co-Director Nicholas Stoller, Editor John Venzon, and Storyboard Artist Matt Flynn. "Storks: Guide to Your New Baby" (2 minutes) is an odd short which features Pigeon Toady attempting to give tips on childcare. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Kiss the Sky" by Jason Derulo. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes and which can be viewed with optional commentary. This includes an alternate opening which explains in much more detail how stork delivery once worked and most of the scenes are in animatic form. The final extra is a 2-minute reel of OUTTAKES.
Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long