(2016) *** Pg
89 min. Warner Bros. Director: Nicholas Stoller. Cast: Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo.

/content/films/4973/1.jpgThere’s money—lots of it—to be made in the field of CGI-animated features, so it’s no wonder that talent nurtured in the field of live-action features should be finding its way to a genre that’s generally thought to be for kids, and that major distributors would welcome such audience-broadening talent with open arms. While “kids of all ages”—especially those with kids of kids ages—have long gravitated to Disney and Pixar films, there’s a bit of extra cachet on an animated film from Wes Anderson (The Fantastic Mr. Fox) or Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, their follow-up to 21 Jump Street). Which brings us to Storks.

Animator/director Doug Sweetland shares directing credit with director Nicholas Stoller. But it's Stoller gets top billing, because his live-action resume includes directing Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Neighbors, co-writing both of the recent Muppets films, and writing and directing Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Perhaps more crucially, as the sole credited screenwriter of Storks, Stoller takes responsibility for the raw comedic materials and plot of this animated comedy.

That plot concerns the mythical role of storks in human society: once responsible for the home “delivery” of babies, storks have gotten with the corporate times and turned their talents to drone-like delivery for an company ironically called, given its headquarters precariously perched on a mountain peak above the clouds. Lording over the HQ is executive CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), whose power hunger is about to leave a vacancy in the role of day-to-day “boss.” Hunter offers the job of boss to junior executive Junior (Andy Samberg), but first Junior must fire the company’s sole human employee, orphan gal Tulip (Katie Crown).

Instead, a farcical series of choices and accidents leads to the reactivation of the storks’ mothballed baby-making machine. To cover up the mistake, Junior and Tulip must eliminate the evidence by delivering the baby. Their adventure takes them through the proverbial “snow…rain…heat…[and] gloom of night” of postal legend. Worse, the baby at one point runs the risk of being raised by wolves—specifically, a pack of wolves with Transformers-esque skills to create vehicular shapes (and with the voices of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele). Meanwhile, a boy (Anton Starkman) dreaming on a baby brother prepares his home and his parents (Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) for the special delivery (“I’m not a jerky teen yet,” he cajoles them. “Fleeting moments. Precious memories”).

As that description suggests, Storks has the familiar manic action considered requisite of the genre (unless you’re Wes Anderson), but its slick dynamism meets with considerable humor and, specifically, proves its consistent adeptness with comic timing. Samberg’s jittery-nerdy energy comes through, and Stoller applies a level of taste and restraint to the film’s use of source music and amusingly awkward pauses. The plot and messages (of conscious priorities, number one being family) are refined enough that, were this released under the Pixar banner, it’s probable that no one would bat an eye, which is high praise for this Warner Animation Group project.

[Preceding the feature is the Lego short film “The Master,” featuring Jackie Chan and a pesky chicken.]

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