Normally, our friends in Hollywood love to teach kids about the birds and the bees in any way they can, as young as possible. The exception is the new PG-rated animated film “Storks,” coming out Friday, Sept. 23. It endeavors to rewrite human biology in a way that not only disconnects having children from sex between men and women — it detaches it from any human effort at all, beyond writing and mailing a letter.
In the world of “Storks,” the birds have given up dropping off infants to dropping off packages for an Amazon-like company. Andy Samberg voices up-and-coming stork Junior, whose job it is to fire Tulip (Katie Crown), an 18-year-old human employee who wreaks havoc wherever she is. Tulip is the last baby produced at the stork facility, who, through some strangeness with her assigned stork, was never delivered to her human family.
Finding it too hard to just fire Tulip, Junior deposits her in the mailroom, where written requests for babies have been piling up for some unspecified period of time. In her usual bumbling way, Tulip manages to feed one letter — a new one, written by the neglected young son of workaholic parents (Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell) — into a long-dormant machine.
The letter somehow becomes cells which multiply and grow. Eventually out pops a pink-haired baby in what looks like a orbital space capsule (and who appears to be several months old). Hoping to salvage his impending promotion, Junior enlists Tulip to secretly deliver the baby, and keep his boss (voice by Kelsey Grammer) from finding out.
The madcap adventure takes Junior and Tulip — presented as an odd couple halfway between pals and interspecies romantic partners — to a frozen landscape. There they encounter a wolf pack that inexplicably has both ropes and fire, and can transform itself into suspension bridges, submarines, minivans, etc.
There’s something in the movie about finding your family, and some warm feelings about the wonderfulness of babies, but they’re utterly buried under the loud, frenetic, breathless, endless string of sight gags and jokes, with nothing approaching sense knitting them together.
Also, we’re not entirely sure how babies are still produced in this fantasy world, where humans are created in the bowels of a giant, Rube Golbergian machine and popped out, fully formed, in metal contraptions. There’s no attempt to talk about how babies actually come into the world, how long the storks’ facility has been idle, and whether it’s the only source of human life.
At one point, untold thousands of letters from the past are fed into the machine, and babies of every hue, with hair in the colors of the rainbow, are spewed out. The storks then deliver them all over the world, to adults of every sort — including both same-sex and opposite-sex couples — who all seem thrilled to get them, despite perhaps having waited decades for a letter to be answered.
(The couples also all appear to be between 25 and 40, even though any kind of logic would dictate that some of them would be a lot older and wondering how they’re going to parent a child in their golden years.)
In an interview after a “Storks” screening, writer Nicholas Stoller explained that he and his wife had had one baby naturally, but had to go through extensive fertility treatments for their second child. One can admire his desire to be a father and evident delight with everything about babies — who are shown as having near-miraculous powers to enchant adults — but “Storks” manages to turn the production of new lives and souls into a literal production line.
One sequence shows mother love throughout the ages, as women protect their child from attackers. It’s a little hard to assert maternal instinct in a movie where babies have neither natural mothers nor fathers, but “Storks” appears to want to have it both ways. It wishes to celebrate the joy of families while ignoring how God and nature intend children to be created.
There isn’t any bad language or sexual content (unsurprisingly), but there are also few laughs. The movie tries tries so hard to be funny that it only succeeds at being exhausting.
As for faith content, there’s zero, either positive or negative. This is also not surprising, because where’s God in a world where people are created within a giant paper shredder.
I don’t expect all animated kids’ movies to have outstanding plots and make perfect sense, but compared to “Storks,” movies like “Toy Story” and “The Lion King” are high art.
Skip “Storks” and show your kids some nature documentaries instead. Maybe you can even find one where little storks are made — in the old-fashioned way.
Image: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures