“Our hope is that people will laugh all the way through and then be surprised that they’re a little moved, too, … That’s the goal with all my movies – that people will go expecting a good time and a lot fun, and will leave with a little something extra, because I think that’s the best that movies can do.”
The action-packed, animated adventure Storks takes audiences on a road trip like no other, as a super-focused stork with big ambitions, and a sunny 18-year-old orphaned girl with some wild ideas, rush to make one very special delivery.
Braving danger and unforeseen setbacks, not to mention completely opposite points of view on almost everything, this unlikely pair of couriers makes the transformative journey of their lives, in an original story that celebrates friendship and family, amidst laughter and poignant moments of discovery.
The film was directed by Stoller (Neighbors, Forgetting Sarah Marshall; writer on The Muppets) and Oscar nominee Doug Sweetland (the animated short Presto; supervising animator on Cars), from a screenplay written by Stoller.
Storks deliver babies…or at least they used to. Now they deliver packages for global internet retail giant Cornerstore.com. Junior (Andy Samberg), the company’s top delivery stork, is about to be promoted when the Baby Factory is accidentally activated on his watch, producing an adorable – and wholly unauthorized – baby girl. Desperate to deliver this bundle of trouble before the boss gets wise, Junior and his friend Tulip, the only human on Stork Mountain, race to make their first-ever baby drop, in a wild and revealing journey that could make more than one family whole and restore the storks’ true mission in the world.
For a big-screen experience in which the visual storytelling had to be as engaging as the action and themes, it made sense to join the talents of noted comedy writer and director Stoller, of “Neighbors” and the “Muppets” movies, and state-of-the-art digital animation whiz Sweetland, whose repertoire includes “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “Cars.” Long aware of each others’ work and reputations, the two were eager to collaborate.
Stoller additionally wrote the “Storks” screenplay, and served as a producer alongside Brad Lewis, another respected animation vet, with “Antz” and the Oscar-winning “Ratatouille” among his credits. ‘
’Nick is primarily a live-action guy, has a great comedy ear and works improvisationally, which isn’t commonly done in the world of animation,” Lewis offers. “And Doug is one of the best computer animators in the world. So we took an inter-disciplinary approach, merging great animation experience and live-action spontaneity and timing for a creative knock-out combination that’s really something different and fresh.”
The spark for the story came from Stoller’s own life. The father of two girls, he explains, “We were lucky with our first daughter, and it was a big surprise when having the second one wasn’t so easy and required a bit of science. That experience made me appreciate having children even more, and I believe it also made me more present as a parent. So that was the inspiration, but it wasn’t until later that the idea popped into my head about storks and the myth about how they once delivered babies and how that might impact a little boy who wants a little brother. It seemed like a fun world to explore and a concept with a lot of opportunities for comedy.”
Specifically, what if the baby factory at Stork Mountain has long been shuttered and its winged workforce pressed into being the world’s preeminent package delivery company by their profit-hungry CEO? Their mission now is uniting customers with their retail purchases. And then what if, through a series of serendipitous mishaps, the old factory became re-activated and suddenly produced what it was designed for…a baby? Fresh off the conveyor belt with that new-baby smell, irresistibly adorable, and ready to be embraced by her family.
“Nothing would be worse,” Sweetland declares. “A baby is anathema to their business model. All a baby would do is slow things down, and this operation is all about maximum efficiency and moving millions of packages around the world. So when this baby appears, it’s a problem Junior has to contain. He’s being groomed by the current CEO, Hunter, to become the boss, and if word gets out that this happened, his career would be over.”
This is one package that has to be delivered priority, and completely on the down-low.
Unfortunately, in his frantic efforts to halt the machinery that created this tiny catastrophe, Junior injures a wing. This forces him, against his better judgment, to accept assistance from Stork Mountain’s lone human resident, Tulip, an open-hearted and optimistic girl with a talent for inventing and a powerful desire to help, that is directly proportional to the amount of trouble she creates every time she touches something. Plus, he kind of holds her responsible for this whole predicament in the first place. Still, Tulip prevails and, together with their contraband cargo, the two take off in a flying contraption that she has engineered by hand from cast-off materials in the basement – and fully looks like it.
“Since I have daughters, it was very important to me that we had a strong, independent female character, front and center. She also had to be strong comedically, and that’s Tulip,” Stoller says.
Their destination is the home of young Nate Gardner and his loving, if workaholic, parents: Sarah, played by Jennifer Aniston, and Henry, played by Ty Burrell, who reveals, “They’ve kind of lost touch with their son. They’re so consumed with their careers, trying to make hay while the sun shines, that they’re missing out on his childhood.”
“The story is so original and moving, but funny at the same time,” says Aniston.
Nate wants a little brother – with ninja skills, naturally. So, being the smart, self-motivated type, he finds an old brochure from the days when storks still delivered babies, and submits a formal request. “In our movie, getting a baby is a lot like writing a letter to Santa Claus, except that you send it to Stork Mountain,” says Sweetland.
As luck would have it, Nate’s order reaches the facility at the exact moment when Tulip – eager, impulsive, helpful Tulip – is able to get her hands on it.
From a global perspective, and even across the U.S., not everyone is aware of the tale about storks bringing babies. For those in the know, it’s a bonus. But Stoller doesn’t feel that will affect audiences’ understanding of the film. “True, we’re having fun with the myth about storks delivering babies, but even if you’re unfamiliar with that myth, it’s a simple story about getting a baby from Point A to Point B and everything that goes wrong. Kids get that, and they like seeing cute babies and all the crazy things these characters go through.”
Likewise, the humor of “Storks” runs the gamut from sophisticated to slapstick, in ways that aim to delight both children and adults. “Doug and I have a similar background and how we’ve always approached comedies is to make them work for the little ones, the middle ones, and the older ones, so that it’s a kind of tapestry,” says Lewis. “Silly smart,” is how the producer describes Stoller’s style, and he goes on to call the movie “an animated buddy comedy, with a playfulness and jocularity that I think is going to hit home with a lot of folks.”
Key and Peele, for example. When asked to describe the film in three words, award-winning comic duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who voice the story’s competing pack leaders Alpha Wolf and Beta Wolf, offer: “Really. Very. Funny.”
“It has jokes for everyone, the physical comedy that’s going to crack up the little kids and the one-liners that sneak in there for the adults, so you can enjoy it as a family,” says Peele.
“The absurdism is there, too, for the comedy nerds,” adds Key. “The film mixes the absurd with the practical laws of the universe. For example, a pack of wolves can come together and assemble themselves as a submarine and go under water, but then they have to come back up for air because they’re mammals.”
In capturing star performances for “Storks,” Stoller’s approach was much like working on a live-action film. He strove to group or pair actors when possible to encourage on-the-spot interactions and find new possibilities in the material. Still an uncommon practice on animated films, the improv factor proved successful across the board, and especially in the bicker-and-bond rapport that develops between Junior and Tulip along their cross-country travails.
As the voice of head honcho Hunter, Kelsey Grammer is no stranger to the recording studio, having brought many memorable animated personas to life. Regarding his tandem sessions with Samberg, he says, “You have to be careful about not stepping on each others’ lines but other than that you can interact and have some real fun, and we found things together that added to the humor.”
Throughout, “There’s a degree of sophistication Nick brings to the banter that’s just awesome,” states Sweetland, while acknowledging that’s only part of the story. “On the surface, ‘Storks’ is a great comedy, but what audiences will find out is it’s actually a Trojan Horse of emotion. As Junior becomes attached to this baby and to Tulip, we realize that, probably for the first time in his life, he is forging a family – this stork and this kooky girl, and the baby that requires a lot more care and attention than they expected. And we discover those feelings along with him.”
Lewis concurs. “One of the themes of the movie is family. And what’s nice about that is family comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s who your friends are, the people you love and surround yourself with. Any relationship or set of relationships can be your family, and this just offers a prism through which that can be seen.”
“I think audiences will enjoy everything about it,” says Aniston. “There’s something for everyone, adults and kids.”
Sometimes that might even be the same person… Says Stoller, “As a kid, I would watch a movie and enjoy it on a certain level and then, each time I watched it again, I got more and more out of it, and started to understand jokes I didn’t understand before. This is what we wanted for ‘Storks,’ that it work on a number of levels, for adults and parents to have a good time and maybe relate it to what they’ve experienced, and for kids to just enjoy the ride.”
Andy Samberg, who gives voice to ace delivery stork Junior, says, “The great thing about ‘Storks’ is that the emotion of the story is real and something I feel audiences can connect with. One of the characters is a child who really wants a sibling and there’s a whole family dynamic there that’s really sweet and will resonate with a lot of people. But at the same time, it’s jam-packed with jokes.”
Samberg’s interest was not only piqued by the story but the filmmakers behind it, including executive producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of “The LEGO® Movie,” with whom he first worked on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”
“I have a ton of respect for Nick Stoller and Doug Sweetland. They showed me an early, loose animatic and it was already great, so I was in!,” he continues. “And we know Phil and Chris make incredible movies.”
“Nick and Doug have great sensibilities and they both understand how important the subtleties are,” says Katie Crown, an accomplished voice actress making her major feature debut as Tulip, Junior’s partner on their big adventure. “Amidst all the chaos and excitement, we had a lot of room to breathe and to touch on those funny, subtle moments, too. I think that’s what gives the movie a lot of its charm.”
“I feel this movie will play to people of all ages,” says Sweetland. “It’s silly and inventive. It’s visually fun, and it’s sort of a one-two punch when it comes to the story. You follow Junior from being completely self-obsessed and career-driven to having this awakening about what really matters – family, connection to others, doing for others rather than just doing for yourself – and he begins to recognize his true potential.
“Our hope is that people will laugh all the way through and then be surprised that they’re a little moved, too,” Stoller concludes. “That’s the goal with all my movies – that people will go expecting a good time and a lot fun, and will leave with a little something extra, because I think that’s the best that movies can do.”