Many modern animated films have posed the question “what if?” However, not many have come close to challenging myths from the days of yore quite like directors Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland’s STORKS. The animated comedic-adventure asks what if storks got out of the baby delivering service and into distributing different bundles of joy – material goods for an internet retail superstore. The tale follows stork Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) and “orphan” Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown) as they circumvent new company policies, delivering an unauthorized pink-haired behbeh to a child in want of a sibling. It’s zany, wacky and, of course, is destined to grab your heart with its sweet (and adorable) sentiment.
Before the studio’s storks deliver the film to your local theater chains, wait it out with us! At the film’s recent press day in Los Angeles, we learned ten fun facts that are sure to impress and enlighten you.
10. Nicholas Stoller had the actors record together. It’s an unconventional technique to have voice actors record simultaneously, but Stoller felt it was necessary to get the best performances from his cast. “In my live action films, I’ve always done improv. I do it to get jokes, but also to create natural performances. I wanted to bring that into animation. Very early on, we cast scratch actors who were comedic talent – and improv’d the scenes.” Producer Brad Lewis concurs, “One of the hardest things about animation is to get a spontaneous vocal performance because everything is done in isolation because everyone wants perfect sound every step along the way. Nick worked in his own way – it’s jazz for Nick. They build it. Like one scene that may be two or three minutes is like three or four hours of material that gets sifted through.” Samberg stated, “He was in the recording booth with us. He was very insistent we both be there at the same time, which I think really shows. The rhythm of the animation was the actual found audio of what we were doing in real time. There’s a lot of overlapping, but it’s specific.” Crown agreed, “It makes the process more authentic when you can play off each other versus going through the lines.”
9. Kelsey Grammer is not “Magic Pan Family Material.” Grammer voices Hunter, the profit-hungry CEO of Cornerstore.com, an Amazon-type web delivery service where a workforce of storks delivers the goods. Though he’s never been under the reign of one of those types of bosses before, he shared he had seen his fair share of unpleasant ones. “They were more bafoonish. I was a busy-boy at a restaurant called Magic Pan and I got a job on a soap opera. A four day run – what they call an ‘under five.’ So I walked up to the boss and said, ‘I’ve been given this job on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Can I go?’ He said, ‘Well you have to cover your shifts.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘If you can’t cover your shifts, you have to come in.’ I said, ‘Listen. I’m going to tell you right now I won’t be coming in. Can you help me cover my shifts because I will still want the job next week.’ I tried and nobody could cover them. So they put me on report to the Magic Pan Corporation. They brought me in and called me on the carpet and said, ‘We are concerned that you may not be Magic Pan family material.’ I said, ‘okay.’ I was going to go to work, but I stopped at the door and turned around and said, ‘You know what? I’m not Magic Pan family material.’”
8. Katie Crown voices a strong and smart female role model. While her clumsy character Tulip was raised without human parents, over her eighteen years on Stork Mountain, she learned practical skills – like engineering and science – all on her own. Crown, who made quite the impression on the higher-ups after she was initially hired for scratch vocals, said of her resourceful character, “It’s nice playing someone who’s fun, affable, but also super smart. She’s an inventor. She builds this plane. It’s really fun to be able to play someone like that.”
7. The script changed to accommodate more heart felt sentiment. Animated films take at least three to four years to make it to the big screen and, in that time, can go see a multitude of changes. Samberg stated that STORKS was no different to that process. “Not major [changes], but it got better. Particularly the emotional story became more rich. It was always about what it’s about, but I don’t know that the [ending] was in there – and that’s one of the most powerful moments in there.” Crown quickly added, “It was originally not that [ending] at all.” Samberg continued, “As the movie took shape, Nick and the rest of those guys honed in on something more emotional.”
6. There was a bit of a learning curve for Nicholas Stoller. After years writing and directing live action films (like the NEIGHBORS series and THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT), Stoller makes his debut as an animation writer-director with STORKS. “I went to an animation school basically for the last three or four years with Brad and [co-director] Doug [Sweetland], [editor] John Venzon, and the story guys Craig [Berry] and Matt [Flynn]. All those guys taught me about animation. One of the great things about working in the entertainment industry is getting to learn new things. This was an awesome learning experience. I was able to stretch myself visually – I don’t normally think visually. They were all very patient with me and explained to me – basically taught me how to do it.” Sweetland stated, “We had the same experience on the animation side. You get into a pattern of making a movie the same way. This was an incredible opportunity to see how Nick works. In fact, he brings a completely different discipline to it. That trickles down through everything else that follows in the process. It feels great to work on something that feels so different.” Lewis concurred, “If there’s something different about STORKS, it’s this combination. There’s great animation pedigree with Doug and I and there’s great live-action pedigree with Nick. To have that, that’s the sole reason I did it with these guys, hoping to do something different. What keeps it fresh is something like this.”
5. Kelsey Grammer and Stephen Kramer Glickman found their voice imitating Rip Torn and Walter Cronkite. Glickman had fun playing Pigeon Toady, Hunter’s corporate lackey. “He comes off so lax and easy, but it’s just a form of distraction. From day one, the first drawing of this character, I looked in his eyes – the half-open/ half-closed eyes. I thought, He’s kind of a weird guy. Oh this reminds me of my old roommate from Long Beach! I brought in a little Walter Cronkite and little pieces to fill him out. There was a kid that I knew growing up who would end very sentence [on a lilting uptick]. As we were working on this for so long, I thought I’d throw that in.” To nail Hunter’s power, Grammer looked no further than a previous co-star. “For this guy, I thought [he] was Rip Torn. I had done a movie with him years and years ago – DOWN PERISCOPE. He’s one of the most wonderful actors I’ve ever worked with. He has a unique style and unique delivery that I basically ripped off completely.”
4. Finding your flock may take time – but it will happen. For many in the STORKS cast, it wasn’t until their young adulthoods that they found their surrogate families. Samberg divulged making his sisters laugh was the primary reason he got into comedy. “I have siblings – I have two older sisters. A lot of the reason I do comedy comes from that dynamic – from family goofing around. I just chased that feeling in my life. You get to high school where the people are into the same stuff you’re into. It went all the way to the point when I got hired at SNL. I always describe getting hired at SNL as ‘Comedy Hogwarts.’ ‘I’m finally in the place I belong! I don’t have to pretend to be a muggle.’” Crown’s flock formed in college. “I’m from Toronto and there’s a great comedy scene there. It was a group of people that gravitated towards the same shows and the same places. We started putting on our own shows – like a weekly thing. It’s folks that I’ve known when I was finishing university that I still collaborate with today – those formative years when you finish school and you’re figuring your life out.” Glickman said, “For me, I grew up doing theater and I loved it. But the one thing that hurt me doing theater is that you’d finish a show and – even with television – everyone goes away. So when I started doing stand-up about fifteen years ago and started getting to hang out with comedians, it’s like a show that never ends. You see them all the time. About ten, fifteen years ago when I started to find my little group of folks. I met my girlfriend that way at a comedy club. Two of my best friends are comedians. We all kind of work together. I bring the comedians in constantly. Grammer, who starred for many years on long running sitcoms like CHEERS and FRAISER, said, “I found my professional family a lot sooner than I did my personal, close family. It just proves that when it comes, you should enjoy it. It may take a while.”
3. STORKS is inclusive of ALL kinds of families. The film’s final montage includes shots of all kinds of families (not exclusively hetero-normative ones), showing that the world is made up of all kinds of couples who have love to share. Because, as we know, love isn’t bound by race, culture or gender. This was a conscious decision made, said Lewis. “The great thing about family is it comes in all shapes and sizes – every sort of orientation, every culture. It was super intentional for us to be universal and make sure that everybody sees this as an inclusive family-oriented movie.” Sweetland added, “Find your flock, as the tagline says, is one of the themes of the movie. It would be an injustice to that theme to not represent the world as we see at the end.”
2. A lot of discussion went into the age of the delivered babies. Eagle-eyed mamas out there will notice that the babies the storks deliver aren’t exactly newborns. No, they are at least around 6 months old. Stoller answered, “Newborns aren’t cute. To me, it’s like six-nine months. It just seemed like a 6 month old was the bullseye. Because they can do stuff, but they can’t really walk around, but they aren’t so young they look like a creature from another planet.”
1. Both Tulip and baby Diamond Destiny characters were named by Nicholas Stoller’s daughter. He casually told us, “My daughter named her when she was five. It was really early in the process. And she named Diamond Destiny too. It was the first thing she said. I thought, ‘Yeah. That kind of sounds silly enough.’”
STORKS opens everywhere on September 23.