“Where do babies come from?” said the boy to his mother. “Well, from the storks of course” she replied with an evident blush filling her cheeks. “Really? Even me?” the boy asked with a raised eyebrow, unconvinced by his mother’s response. “Yes dear, all babies are delivered by them!”
Every parent may have to face this daunting question one day, but thanks to the age-old stork mythology they have been spared having to explain the truth to their children for centuries. However, in Warner Bros and Sony Pictures Imageworks’ new animated feature Storks, this classic fable is given a modern makeover – exploring things from the storks’ perspective.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, the film revolves around the character Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg), Cornerstore’s top delivery stork who has been offered the position of Boss by executive CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer). However, before he can start his new position he must first fire Tulip (Katie Crown) – a human employee who was left on Stork Mountain (where Cornerstore is based) as a baby due to a delivery that went wrong. 18 years ago the storks used to deliver babies, but Hunter saw that there was more profit to be made in package delivery so he shut down the baby factory – ending the baby delivery service. Back in present time human world, Nate Gardner really wants a baby brother (preferably with ninja skills) and sends a letter to the storks. Back at Cornerstore, Junior doesn’t have the heart to fire Tulip so he transfers her to the mail room where she can’t cause any problems. Unfortunately for Junior, Tulip receives Nate’s letter and accidentally posts it into a slot which boots up the baby factory – creating a baby girl who Tulip names Diamond Destiny. Tulip wants to do the right thing and deliver the baby to Nate. Junior, with his promotion at stake reluctantly agrees to secretly deliver the baby – and the two of them set of on a hilarious yet perilous adventure.
Interestingly, Storks isn’t really a kid’s film at all; most of the comedy is for an adult audience – centered around workplace politics, juggling work with family life and exploring the struggles of parenthood. In the scenes where Junior is meeting with Hunter, there are the occasional witty remarks about running a business – and Junior wants nothing more in the world than to climb the corporate ladder. Likewise, there is a car scene where Nate is trying to convince his parents to spend some time with him. However, they are both completely oblivious; chatting away to their clients on their Bluetooth headsets. Nate tells his parents “You blink and I’ll be in college”, a line clearly aimed at an adult audience. There is also the amusing fight scene where penguins are trying to take Diamond Destiny away from Tulip and Junior without waking her. Of course, there’s comedy throughout that young children and teens will enjoy, but Storks certainly plays on clichés and stereotypes that adults (and certainly parents) will immediately relate to.
It is however encouraging to see a female lead that isn’t bound to a gender stereotype and there is certainly no princess trope in Tulip’s character. This is so important as she is fundamentally central to the plot, driving and developing the narrative through her actions as both the cause and the solution to the events that unfold. Quirky, imperfect and complex, Tulip is a believable character that we, the audience, can invest in and care about, which offers so much more than some one-dimensional gender cliché.
Similarly, it is interesting how the film has connected the stork myth with the world we live in today. In our day-to-day lives we don’t often see babies delivered to our door by storks, but we do see parcels, often delivered by online retailers – notably Amazon, the world’s largest retailer. Interestingly, there is the possibility of Amazon using aerial drones to deliver our packages in the not so distant future and Storks is certainly a parody of this idea. But perhaps there is something profoundly meaningful hidden beneath this satire. We currently live in a consumerist society where buying things is central to our social and economic ideology. Cornerstore, the Amazon-esque retail giant has taken over the stork’s original role of delivering babies and without these baby deliveries there will eventually be no more human families. So does Cornerstore subliminally represent the dangers of consumerism – a world where people are more invested in buying stuff than spending time with their families? Is it a warning that consumerism will be our doom and the only way for the human race to survive is to abolish it? Possibly. The filmmakers may have intended this – or it could just be my mind wandering and reading too much into it, but it’s certainly food for thought. Ultimately however, the film is all about the importance of family and defines family as something much deeper than individuals whom you are simply blood related to; family can come from anywhere (they could be humans, storks or even a pack of wolves!) This is a powerful message that certainly pulls on your heart strings toward the end of the film – in stark contrast to the endless comic gags and fast-paced action delivered earlier.
But what I particularly liked about this film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously – defying logic and reason and focusing on just being fun and wacky. There are areas of the plot that are unexplained such as ‘how does the baby factory work?’ and the obvious paradox ‘where did all the babies come from since the storks stopped making and delivering them?’ But this really isn’t important, it’s an animated film where animals can talk and where birds can run a successful retail corporation – so don’t get too wrapped up in the details. It is also a film where wolves can combine together to form various complex objects including a suspension bridge and a submarine with fully functioning propellers. These ‘wolf pack’ scenes are hilarious, truly imaginative and technically ground-breaking. I have a good understanding of 3D character rigging and I would say that combining multiple fully detailed character rigs (in some scenes there were hundreds of characters) into a one rig entity is impressive to say the least. I was astounded by how well these sequences were put together and I haven’t seen anything nearly as adventurous in animation before.
In fact, the entire film is very well made, with an appealing colour palette, well designed characters that are expressively animated, nice scene compositions and a ‘polish’ that stands up to the likes of Pixar. A subtle yet important detail I noticed was the design of the storks’ wings. In flight their wings look, well, like wings. But when grounded their wings seamlessly transform into humanoid arms, each with an elbow, wrists, fingers and an opposable thumb. This is an ingenious design choice that allows them to gesture and interact with their environment in a very human way; providing the animators with freedom and allowing us, the audience, to identify with the stork characters. Often in 3D computer animation the characters retain their form and do not have the same pliable quality to those of traditional 2D animation. But as 3D computer animation has developed this disparity between the two mediums has been slowly diminishing. Like in the Ice Age films’ Tex Avery-esque Scrat sequences, Stork’s flexible character animation and rigging demonstrates that 3D computer animation can be as free and malleable as traditional 2D.
In conclusion, Storks is overall a very enjoyable and technically brilliant film. However, don’t take my word for it – see it for yourself.
Storks hits UK cinemas on Friday 14th October. For more on the film visit the official site at storksmovie.com