For centuries storks delivered babies to happy human couples, but now all that has changed. Today they fly packages with consumer goods as part of Cornerstone, a global postal service run by storks operating from a giant station in the sky. Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg), the company's top delivery stork, is especially excited to learn Cornerstone's bullish CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) is considering promoting him to boss. But there's a catch. First he must fire Tulip (Katie Crown), a now-eighteen year old human girl never delivered to her parents because her stork Jasper (Danny Trejo) grew a little too attached. Now she works at Cornerstone where her over-eager efforts and madcap inventions cause no end of mishaps.
Unfortunately, Tulip's sheer niceness gets to Junior. So he secretly transfers her to the now-defunct mail department instead. Meanwhile on Earth, ten year old Nate Gardner (Anton Starkman) is fed up with being neglected by his parents, work-obsessed realtors Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) and Henry (Ty Burrell). So he sends a letter to Cornerstone requesting a baby brother. Whereupon Tulip, despite Junior's frantic efforts to stop her, foolishly reactivates the storks' magical baby-making machine. Now Junior and Tulip must make the journey to deliver the bouncing baby to the Gardner family before Hunter discovers what went wrong. A task that proves more perilous than either could imagine.
In the past it was not uncommon for animators to make the jump into live-action comedies. Yet lately the trend has been for the reverse. Following in the footsteps of Wes Anderson and Garth Jennings, seasoned comedy director Nicholas Stoller - the man behind Judd Apatow productions like Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Bad Neighbours (2014) - makes his animation debut with Storks. Endearingly off-kilter and laden with imaginative ideas this Warner Brothers animated feature actually revives several concepts, visual gags and thematic motifs found in classic Looney Tunes. While the brash, off-the-wall characterizations may prove grating for some, it has a fairly consistent hit-rate of machine-gun gags. Not least when comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele enter the film as alpha males in a wolf pack that wind up smitten with the adorable pink-haired infant. Their ongoing efforts to snag the baby for themselves leads to an hilarious running gag about wolves' hitherto unheralded shape-shifting abilities referencing the Wonder Twins from vintage DC cartoon The Super Friends.
Certainly aspects of Storks recycle concepts established in Elf (2003) and Monsters Inc. (2001) but Stoller also includes original ideas mixing cool science fiction gadgetry with imaginative funny animal fantasy. At first the plot seems content to leave pathos to Pixar and go for broad belly laughs. However gradually, even masterfully, Storks expands its emotional undertones, interweaving an almost rom-com like relationship between anxious stork Junior and vulnerable orphan Tulip with a disarmingly heartfelt message about unconventional families. Voiced to perfection by Lonely Island comedian-singer Andy Samberg and seasoned voice actress and writer Katie Crown, Junior and Tulip share an engaging dynamic. Over the course of an often-calamitous misadventure the comical duo re-enact every emotion felt by over-anxious young parents. Some of their dialogue disarmingly real and relatable. It is also worth noting that Tulip marks a rare instance where a cartoon heroine gets to be wacky and hilarious rather than merely winsome. She has an affecting character arc that in hindsight is regrettably rare for a female character in an animated movie. To its credit Storks counterbalances the odd potentially saccharine moment with plenty of laugh out loud moments including cinema's quietest climactic fight where participants go out of their way to avoid waking the baby. Even so, in such socially divisive times, one cannot help but warm to the closing montage celebrating family in all its diversity.