STORKS. Voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman. Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland. 87 minutes. Rated G (Some scenes may scare very young children).

When directors move between live action and animated films, it’s far more common for an animation director, fresh off a hit or two, to dip their toes into filming reality. Nicholas Stoller, known for directing comedies such as ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’, ‘Get Him to the Greek’, and Bad Neighbours’, has headed in the opposite direction and, with the help of animation veteran Doug Sweetland, makes the most of his sea change. ‘Storks’ is fast, funny, and pops with the kind of visual invention that smacks of a filmmaker long constrained to the limitations of live action finally let loose in an unlimited sandbox.

The film is set in a world where storks once delivered human offspring to their doting parents. In recent years, they shifted their business to a more profitable venture: delivering packages for (think Amazon or EBay but without the trademarked name). Junior (Andy Samberg in goofy good form) is a highly successful delivery maker, and stands to take over from Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) as CEO. Junior’s final test is to fire Tulip (Katie Crown, a standout), a human who has worked at the factory with little success since her baby-pod went undelivered due to an accident 18 years earlier.

When Junior struggles to let Tulip go, he instead hides her, sending her to oversee the now defunct letters department. What Junior doesn’t predict is that Nate (Anton Starkman), a young boy whose parents’ real estate firm occupies their attention almost exclusively and who desperately pines for a younger brother, has written a letter to the storks requesting a new baby. The real trouble starts when Tulip accidentally uses the letter to fire up the old baby generator and pop out a ridiculously adorable little tyke, which Junior and Tulip will have to deliver before the other storks find out.

The ensuing quest takes them through all sorts of fun tangents, from tangles with predatory wolves with a hankering for babies to raise as wolf cubs (led by the hoarse and hilarious voices of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), to staying ahead of the tracking skills of Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman, caricatural), a funny little pigeon desperate to fit in with his stork coworkers and climb up the corporate ladder. Stoller and Sweetland have tremendous fun with the wolves, and their animation stands as a good example of the aforementioned inventiveness; when chasing Junior and Tulip, the wolfpack join up to form all manner of physics- and logic-defying contraptions, including suspension bridges and submarines. Toady’s detective work is equally fun, with a sendup up ‘CSI’-esque crime shows as he follows the clues to hunt the fugitives down.

Meanwhile, Nate on the ground is trying to prepare his house for the incoming delivery, as well as finally get some meaningful time with his busy parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, both solid). There’s a nice plotline here which advocates to parents the value of making time to spend with your children, but most of the action comes from the Junior-Tulip-Baby narrative strand. While a nice amount of gags come simply from the visuals, the voice cast also give naturally funny performances. They often just seem to be nattering on with strong ad-lib vibes, and this naturalism uncovers the occasional great laugh.

‘Storks’ will likely be somewhat of a default choice for parents with youngish children looking for entertainment during these school holidays. The good news for parents is that it’s an enjoyable way to spend your time, although I can’t help but think that Nate’s subplot in the film would encourage parents to spend some quality family time outside of a darkened cinema instead. Food for thought.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out September 22.

Roadshow Films.

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