Everyone knows how babies are made: A man and woman fall in love; they get married; they pick up a stork catalog and send in for their own little bundle of joy.
“Storks” takes a page from the Pixar playbook and employs a “Monsters Inc.”-like conceit that takes us behind the scenes of a long-held childhood belief and wrings humor out of making it literal. But that’s where the Pixar comparisons end. Even at what should be a brisk 89 minutes, “Storks” is a plodding affair, short on laughs and whimsy.
The film’s chief shortcoming is its main character, Junior (Andy Samberg), a stork on the verge of a very big promotion. The storks have long since bowed out of the baby business after a stork fell in love with a delivery and went rogue, destroying the baby’s homing beacon and making it impossible to deliver her to her parents. So the baby factory has been shuttered and in its place is Cornerstore.com, an Amazon-like retail service that employs storks as its delivery method (kids love Internet retail jokes).
But to nab that promotion, Junior has to clear up a lingering bit of unpleasantness: He’s got to get rid of the orphan Tulip (Katie Crown). For lack of alternatives, the storks have kept and raised the baby that ended their first business, and now, nearly grown, she’s threatening to end their second, wreaking havoc in the warehouse in her ongoing struggle to fit in. Instead of firing her, Junior hides her in the long-defunct letters department.
It seems like a good plan, until Tulip gets a letter from a lonely little boy desperate for a baby brother. She delivers the letter, accidentally reactivates the baby factory and out bounces a wriggling blue-eyed infant that will cost Junior his job if he can’t dispense of it, pronto. Thanks to a (conveniently) broken wing, Junior needs assistance, so he enlists the help of inventive Tulip and her slapdash flying machine to travel the wild world and drop the baby off to her new parents and her eager older brother.
“Storks” is teeming with loud, forgettable minor characters: Junior’s hulking brute of a boss, voiced by Kelsey Grammar; a gaggle of penguins; a pair of workaholic Realtor parents (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burrell), whose son sent off for the baby. None sparkles onscreen. But by far the film’s most grating character is Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman), a bro-tastic lackey whose comedic highlights include singing “How You Like Me Now?” and sniffing a diaper for an awkwardly long time. He can’t get sucked into a jet engine a moment too soon.
All that witless, hyperactive noise would be more tolerable if “Storks” had a strong emotional core, but it’s wanting there too. Junior is a cipher, lacking motivation beyond a desire to land a promotion and cracking gentrification jokes that no children (and perhaps few adults) are going to get. Tulip is ostensibly lonely and aching for the sort of acceptance only a family can provide, but she’s too annoyingly chatty and chipper to sell it. The only character who really connects is the boy who sends off for a sibling, but his story is secondary to the flat odd-couple comedy that dominates the film.
“Storks” is charmless with rote obligation. This is a kid’s film for hire, with none of the creativity, emotion and design that elevate the genre to art, or even simply a fun time at the movies. Forget storks; they were right to retire. Babies are best made the old-fashioned way.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland and written by Stoller. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG (for mild action and some thematic elements). Opens Friday at local theaters.