Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune

Whatever film was screening at the mainstream cinemas in Addis Abeba this week, it was always going to fall flat after the disappointing cancellation of an eagerly anticipated South Korean film festival. Storks, a lighthearted animation about the delivery of babies, was adequate for passing the time, but nothing more - 5 out of 10 stars.

There was, this past week, a scheduled film event as part of a festival by South Korea to showcase their culture to the Ethiopian people. Five movies were to be screened at the Oromo Cultural Institute, and after hearing this, I was pretty psyched. Two of the most interesting and up-and-coming film industries of the world belong to South Korea and Romania. The latter make the type of movies that are bleak, calm, meticulously plotted and bone-crushing in their conclusions. The Koreans are more self-deprecating, to the point of being humorous, but equally terrifying.

Alas, no Korean movies for me. The organisers cancelled the event for “security issues”. Not reasons, but issues, as if safety couldn’t possibly be guaranteed in this current state of the country. So, I was forced to turn my attention to our famous local multiplex, and its usual drudgery.

The key to having a good time while watching a mall movie – which are noisy, aggressively coloured and trite – is to go in expecting absolutely nothing. I have noticed this in my own viewing habits. The more I expect something from a movie, the more I am likely to be hurt, or annoyed, if it doesn’t meet my lofty expectations. This happens with filmmakers who have an impressive filmography, like Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who would make a fantastic movie like Birdman one year, and settle for something as sloppy as The Revenant the next.

I went to Storks expecting shenanigans, and lucky for me all the shenanigans, though not necessarily comedic, were indeed fun. This is the kind of movie people make because they have to. Because the filmmakers needed work, found a project, signed on, learned it could never be truly engaging, but ploughed on regardless, because only their employers could release them from their contracts.

The plot is typical of animated movies: farfetched to the point of being ridiculous. It concerns storks – tall white birds with long beaks. In the movie’s fictional universe, they have been delivering human babies for thousands of years. Not delivering from a woman in labour, of course – this is a kids’ movie – but from some type of machine that creates babies for adults who want them.

But that was all in the past; storks don’t do this anymore – primarily because there are more appropriate, and more fun, means of having babies, and secondly because newborns are a nuisance. So, the company’s current CEO, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), has made the storks’ move on to more profitable services, namely package delivery. It is at this point we meet the hero of the movie, Junior (Andy Samberg), who, in his boss’s mind, is ready for promotion.

Junior’s first task before he could be fully installed in his new job is to fire Tulip – a human, who was manufactured by the company, but before delivery had her homing beacon, which tells the birds where to take a baby, destroyed, and the storks were forced to adopt her until her 18th birthday. As she is now an adult, Junior has to tell her that she needs to leave the company’s premises. He doesn’t have the heart to do this, however, so gives her a duty far away from the other storks in a forgotten factory. That factory accidentally happens to be were the babies used to be made; a baby is made, and Junior and Tulip have to somehow return it to the awaiting parents without any of their colleagues finding out.

The plot might strike most as poppycock, or even unintelligible. It might make one ask – who, in heaven’s sake, would sink millions of dollars into a movie that is so preposterous? Only Hollywood, and only in the case of animated movies.

I could imagine how strange it would have been to submit the plot of Toy Story – about toys that come to life whenever no one is looking. It isn’t something that could conceivably have been constructed into a feature film with depth and clarity. But imagination prevailed, as it mostly does, and the creators of the film came up with a masterpiece (in fact three of them) that everyone, regardless of age, could rally behind. And there are many more seemingly crackpot plotlines in this unique genre that, in the end, gave Shakespeare a run for his money.

The difference between those types of animated films and Storks is that the latter wasn’t executed satisfactorily. This can be glimpsed in the dialogue, which is exorbitant. The voice actors were probably told to say whatever they wanted, and promised it would later be assembled into something coherent in postproduction. The third act is obvious, and most of the film’s funny parts, although amusing, do not warrant the ticket price.

The film, like most animated movies, has two directors – which is understandable, as the genre requires a knack for being able to create something out of thin air. Nicholas Stoller, one of the directors, known for funny live-action movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshal and Neighbours, probably concentrated on the film’s plot and structure, while Doug Sweetland, director number two, given his background in computer animation, probably took care of the visual aspects of the film.

It has now become trendy to screen a short film before every animated movie. Pixar use this opportunity to show genuine works of art, while other studios, like Warner Brothers and Universal, exploit the convenience to advertise their most popular animated movies. Storks, which was produced by Warner, comes packaged with The Master, which features characters from the studio’s Lego Movie franchise. I recommend coming in late to the screening of the feature, in order to miss this unwarranted tomfoolery.



By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Oct 18,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 859]



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