For a review of “Storks,”
Welcome to the very strange, and strangely mov- ing, world of “Storks.” Writerdirector Nicholas Stoller, known for his more adult comedies, such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Neighbors,” delves into the familyfriendly animated genre in a little movie about where babies come from. Or where they used to come from. In this world, the old wives tale of storks delivering bouncing bundles of joy is real history, though the birds have been relegated to delivering packages for CornerStore.com after one became too attached to a baby.
Stoller teams up with experienced animator Doug Sweetland for directing duties, and the story balances the fantasy world with more mundane realities. The film starts out as a workplace sitcom, as our protagonist, Junior the stork (Andy Samberg), is fired up for a promotion from boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammar). Unfortunately, accident-prone human orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) just keeps getting in his way. She’s the baby at the center of the stork-attachment incident, and she’s been raised in the warehouse.
In the human world, Nate (Anton Starkman) an only child, wishes for a baby brother to play with while his parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) are preoccupied with their home real estate business. He discovers an old pamphlet for stork baby delivery, sends off a letter, and through Tulip’s misguided helpfulness, the baby factory is fired up once more. Like the CornerStore.com motto says, “Always Deliver!” so Tulip and Junior find themselves on an adventure to get the new baby to the family and be back in time for StorkCon and Junior’s promotion.
The story itself is fairly standard — a quarreling odd couple learn about themselves and each other through a perilous journey — but Stoller embellishes the tone with a sense of deep weirdness. There’s room enough for bizarre little gags and side tangents that are silly enough to delight kids and parents alike, as well as fast and furious joke delivery from the comedic voice talent. One of Junior’s undermining coworkers Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman) sports a surfer drawl and a mop of Trumpian orange hair; a wolf pack led by a pair voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have unique abilities to transform themselves into various land and water vehicles.
“Storks” is at times cacophonous and overly busy, and the animation tends toward the goofily humorous rather than the spectacular. However, Stoller manages to pull off a third act and emotional resolution that’s genuinely moving. There’s definitely some kind of metaphor going on about the futile regulation of a “baby factory” that can’t be controlled by larger profit-driven corporate forces, layered with deeper themes about couples that want babies and don’t have them yet.
The emotional core of the film, with Junior and Tulip bonding through their adventures and making new friends along the way, is that family is what you make of it. Maybe a baby makes a family, but maybe friends are family; maybe family is bound by shared DNA; maybe family is a wolf pack. What matters is what you do with your family, how you spend time with them, show them that you care and share a life together. That this resonant a message comes in such a wildly weird and funny package is just about as oddly pleasant as you can imagine.
“Storks,” a Warner Bros. Pictures, is rated PG for mild action and some thematic elements. Running time: 89 minutes.
“The Magnificent Seven”
Seven warriors fight for the vulnerable, in a formula that bears revisiting in “The Magnificent Seven.” Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece, “Seven Samurai,” begat the classic 1960 Western “The Magnificent Seven,” then a late ’90s TV series and now, a big budget action adventure Western directed by Antoine Fuqua. It’s an appealing concept — bad guys who can be good, loners who can work together and find camaraderie in a team when it comes to protecting innocents.
With the blockbuster cast that Fuqua has assembled, including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard, as well as stunning cinematography by Mauro Fiore, this Western epic remake should be an easy home run. It’s all there — except for the writing, and that failure is the Achilles’ heel that never lets this version of “The Magnificent Seven” achieve liftoff.
Written by “True Detective” scribe Nic Pizzolatto alongside “Expendables” and “The Equalizer” writer Richard Wenk, “The Magnificent Seven” is long on violence and short on story, character development, motivation, and all the things that make any kind of violence satisfying to watch. Therefore, despite all the star power, charisma, and dusty heroics on screen, it’s impossible to care about any of it.
The biggest problem is a failure to adequately establish the villain, Bartholomew Bogue. Sarsgaard does his sniveling best with the two scenes he is given to portray Bogue, a tyrannical capitalist who equates democracy with God with the free market, and who has seized the town of Rose Creek for the purposes of gold mining. In a pre-credits opener, we see just what a baddie he is, tormenting children, shooting up a church, and mowing down innocent citizens, but it’s just not enough to justify the endless violence that the seven return, especially since the townspeople are endangered and killed in the melee themselves.
To top it off, there’s just not enough backstory and character motivation to believe that these seven would put themselves on the line for this tiny town. Spunky Emma (Haley Bennett) retains the services of warrant officer Sam Chisholm (Washington), who has a deep secret memory of Bogue that sparks his interest in the job. The other six he strong arms into joining him, including Faraday (Pratt) and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). He calls on old pal Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke) and his associate, Chinese fighter Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and somehow convinces Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and cowboy Santa Claus Jack Horne (D’Onofrio) to join up too. Why any of them participate in the massacre is frankly, a mystery.
The Western genre has always worked as a metaphor — a fable that allows us to work out our contemporary quandaries through the screen of a period piece. In this “Magnificent Seven,” there’s a celebration of guns that feels both of that era of lawless shootouts, and unfortunately, of this era too.
These gunmen protect citizens entitled to freedom from unfettered capitalism. It’s a politically complicated message, at once conservative and liberal, speaking to both sides. While there might be an intriguing moral wrapped in this violent package, without the human element urging the story forward, the “Magnificent Seven” turns out to be rather insignificant after all.
“The Magnificent Seven,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. Running time: 132 minutes.
Denzel Washington, left, and Chris Pratt star in “The Magnificent Seven.”