When one thinks of animated family entertainment featuring a cast of kind, cuddly creatures, director Nicholas Stoller isn’t the first name that comes to mind. The helmer of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Five-Year Engagement,” and “Neighbors” (and its sequel), Stoller has built a career on crude humor and acts of humiliation, making him an unlikely mastermind behind a comical tale of birds in charge of distributing newborns to the world. Sharing a newfound interest in the PG crowd, Stoller goes full cartoon with “Storks,” but often seems confused about what he really wants from the picture, unable to decide if he’s creating something heartwarming or something obnoxious. He’s good with big and bright, but Stoller’s sense of humor is too slack to trigger laughs, which there are precious few of in this routine effort.
On the far away land of Stork Island, the bird population was once responsible for the creation and distribution of infants to parents who’ve sent in letters requesting a child. However, 18 years ago, an accident triggered by Jasper’s (Danny Trejo) desperation to keep a baby led to a full shutdown of the factory. Now the area is used for Corner Store, an Amazon-style warehouse overseen by Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), who’s ready to make top man Junior (Andy Samberg) boss of it all. Unfortunately, Junior’s first assignment is to fire human Tulip (Katie Crown), who’s been with the population since Jasper lost her coordinates, unable to bring the teen to her rightful family. Finding it impossible to go through with the dismissal, Junior instead sticks Tulip in the dormant mail room, where she promptly enters a letter into the babymaking machine written by young Nate (Anton Starkman), who wants a little brother and attention from his workaholic parents, Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) and Henry (Ty Burrell). Now stuck with a baby they name Diamond Destiny, Tulip and Junior hit the road to bring the child to Nate, falling in love with the passenger along the way.
“Storks” is a broad comedy seemingly assembled by the Ani-Mated 9000 family film screenplay machine, bringing audiences into a fantasy world of birds who’ve found their parcel delivery niche after giving up the baby business long ago. Junior is the lead stork, but there are numerous supporting characters to meet, including Hunter and Pigeon Toady, who’s either Junior’s rival or his sycophant, it’s never quite clear. The storks have built an empire on their largely human-free island, but trouble remains with Tulip, who’s doing her best to fit in by taking odd jobs, but she’s bad for business, with Junior selected to get rid of a young woman the community has more or less adopted. Of course, there are questions concerning Tulip’s first 18 years with the storks, and there’s the whole issue of the birds and their magical ability to create life, but Stoller (who also scripts) pays more attention to the big picture, trying to find any opportunity to fit rubbery CG-animated slapstick into the movie. Details are less of a priority.
Once “Storks” sets the plot in motion, it becomes a road movie of sorts, following Junior (who’s injured his wing, removing the flying option) and Tulip as they cross the land, encountering all sorts of setbacks and survival challenges. The liveliest includes a wolf pack (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) that pursues the trio, using their large numbers to transform into different vehicles, including a van and a submarine. It’s an amusing idea. Stoller also gets a lot of mileage out of bird behavior, playing up Junior’s inability to see glass, requiring special panicked directions from Tulip when they enter a clear maze. “Storks” is broad from start to finish, never far from silliness, but there’s time for warmth as well, watching Nate reconnect with his once distant parents as they prepare their house for the new arrival, building an elaborate playland on the roof. Stoller also has plenty of new parent jokes to work through, sure to please older viewers, including a running gag about putting Diamond to sleep. It’s a naptime release that’s so precious, the gang battles a team of penguins in near-silence to preserve the baby’s slumber. It’s the feature’s one big laugh.