A fictional world must know its own reality, no matter how frivolous that world is.
The 400-Word Review: Storks
By Sean Colleir
September 26, 2016
It's the difference between The Simpsons and Family Guy. (Or, for that matter, old Simpsons and new Simpsons.) The former understands the stakes, reality and emotional life of its characters, while acknowledging the incongruous parts of its existence - characters which do not age, geographically ambivalent setting. The latter occurs in a universe without any narrative rules or order, making it impossible to truly care for its characters.
The fields of speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy demonstrate that audiences are willing to accept any deviation from our own reality as long as the rules of a work are clear, consistent and palpable. Honor this, and it's possible to identify with far-fetched scenarios; disavow it, and even realistic creations will become psychologically remote.
And let it not be assumed that younger audiences do not know the difference; young viewers are acutely aware of the rules of a fictional universe. Watch children at play and note how quickly they define the reality in which they are operating.
Which is to say that it's a serious problem that Storks never explains why some babies arrive via stork delivery and others via the method to which we're most accustomed.
(Was that a long way to go to set up that complaint? Definitely. But I only have so much to say about Storks.)
The animated film from writer/director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) posits a world in which storks used to deliver babies, but have switched to delivering goods ordered online for economic and practical reasons. A young lad in want of a baby brother finds an old advertisement for the stork baby service and petitions the birds for a sibling; when the order is accidentally filled by a hapless (human) staffer, she unites with an ambitious avian to get the tot safely delivered.
The few laughs that Storks manages are thanks to fine voice performances by Andy Samberg and Katie Crown in the lead roles and Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a pack of innovative wolves. (Others, such as Kelsey Grammer and Jennifer Aniston, sleepwalk through.) Other than the confusion inherent in the premise, it's a mostly inoffensive entertainment - but it also has absolutely nothing to say. That's aberrant among modern animated features; simply being cute and occasionally amusing is no longer good enough.
My Rating: 4/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark