AKA: Richard the Stork, Überflieger – Kleine Vögel, großes Geklapper, Overflights: Small Birds, Big Clattering
Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Coming of Age
Year Released: 2017
Distributor: Grindstone/Lionsgate/Google Play
Running Time: 84 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Storks, Finding Nemo, Alpha and Omega, Rio, Surf’s Up, Valiant, A Bug’s Life
-This review reflects the Google Play pre-release edition that’s on the site. It will be released in theaters in North America on June 30th, 2017.
-The US English dub track was used for this review.
-There is a major spoiler involving a character’s backstory and the implications of that scene. You’ve been warned.
-EDIT: This review was written and posted years prior to the serious allegations surfaced against Drake Bell. I hope justice will be done and if anyone is interested in watching the movie, then try watching the original German version or even the alternate dub with different actors.
-Claudius, the stork father is played by Jonathan Todd Ross under the pseudonym Todd Garbeil. Want to know one of his most famous voice acting roles? He played the English dub voice of Marik Ishtar from Yu-Gi-Oh. Cue screaming fangirls.
-Co-director Toby Genkel has done some layout work for Felidae which is QUITE different from A Stork’s Journey, and I’ll leave it at that.
After watching and reviewing The Secret of Kells, I had to see what other Western animated films I should see. I can’t just have all my animated reviews be anime releases. This review is another first for me because this is the first time I’ve reviewed a movie that came out this year since several of the films and anime series I’ve reviewed are years and even decades old right now. Hooray to me keeping up with current films (kind of)! I saw that Google Play had an offer of downloading this European CGI film for a limited time before it’s sent to mainstream theaters across North America. I knew next to nothing about this movie, but I thought it would be an innocuous film to add to my reviewing repertoire despite not looking like something I’d willingly watch at any other time.
A Stork’s Journey deals with the main character Richard. Unlike what the alternative title may suggest, Richard is not a stork, but a tiny sparrow. He’s adopted by a family of storks within seconds of him hatching. The main issue is that his original sparrow parents got eaten by a weasel, so he becomes orphaned and didn’t even know it. His adopted father Claudius wants nothing to do with Richard because of his species despite being cared for by his mate Aurora and his biological son Max. One day, the storks have to migrate to Africa and leave Richard behind out of insistence by Claudius, so Richard makes a goal to go to Africa to reunite with his adopted family while meeting some wacky characters along the way.
Let me just state the most obvious thing about the beginning of the movie, this backstory with Richard is TOTALLY lifted from Finding Nemo. The only major differences are the animals involved and the fact that both parents die before the main character hatches from the egg. I just shook my head when that realization hit me as I began watching this movie. Even the whole “quest to see the family again” storyline reminded me of that Pixar film, but reversed since it’s the “son” that’s trying to find the rest of his family. Not to mention that there was a certain other movie involving those birds simply called Storks which was released only a year ago. The level of un-originality in addition to the film being part of that CGI cartoon flick trend that’s been going on for over fifteen years now made A Stork’s Journey an uphill battle to watch at times. To be fair to A Stork’s Journey, it doesn’t involve the myth of storks delivering babies such as the aforementioned Storks movie or even going back decades ago with Dumbo.
The CGI production isn’t too bad, but it does get inconsistent at times. The texturing with the character’s feathers or fur is passable, but some scenes it becomes jagged such as early on in the film. I do like the little details of the storks’ beaks with some of the ridges in close-up shots. The animation does improve about mid-way through the film which is a plus. I will say that the scene where the birds land in a pool on an ocean liner did look great with the water effects and lighting. The aesthetics do remind me of several Blue Sky movies or some of Dreamworks’ filmography, and I thought I was watching something from either company at times. The humans in A Stork’s Journey are just plain and generic looking with more details given to the animal characters. I understand that the focus is on the various animals, but they could have put more effort into everyone who has some kind of major or minor role in the film.
Let’s talk about some of the characters here. Richard is a typical plucky, yet misunderstood protagonist. He could fit in several Pixar or Dreamworks films with his personality. The main twist is that he legitimately believes he’s a stork instead of a sparrow throughout most of the movie. Drake Bell does a decent job playing the character, but he didn’t stand out that much as a lead protagonist. There’s Olga who’s a pygmy owl. She’s a loopy character who has an imaginary friend by the name of Oleg. Olga does have some funny scenes even though there’s disturbing elements to that character which I’ll elaborate later on. The third bird who eventually joins Richard and Olga is Kiki who is this very flamboyant parakeet who wants to escape from his job as a karaoke bird at a restaurant, but is very cowardly. Kiki does have some funny lines such as freaking out about seeing bones and saying “How should I know [those are bird bones]? I’m a vegan!”, but he felt more like a caricature than a real character. He’s obsessed with disco music, is super effeminate, and dreams of being a professional songbird. By the way, guess what’s his favorite song that he sings multiple times when he daydreams and also in real life? No, seriously. Just guess. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross! Wow, people. Even as a straight man, I facepalmed how they made Kiki into a flaming gay stereotype that would make people in the LGBT community cringe.
While I had very low expectations for A Stork’s Journey, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh a few times in this movie. Some of the dialog did get a chuckle out of me like when Kiki hears Richard’s backstory, he says “I wish I had a dramatic backstory like that.” I’ll even admit that the mafia crows in Sanremo, Italy were a bit funny when they offered protection to the protagonists. The best recurring joke of the movie involve various birds that sit on telephone wires or satellite dishes. Any bird that perches on them not only get shocked every few seconds, but they literally use the wires and dishes like the internet. There are random Windows and Mac sounds when they “connect” and sometimes, the voices get a brief auto-tune effect for a second before reverting to normal. When Olga perches on a telephone wire, she claims to have gotten friend requests while the rest talk about blocking other birds, doing search engines, or saying random things like LOL. When Kiki unplugs the satellite cord, the Windows shut down jingle plays and the birds fall down before looking for another hotspot in town. There’s even a pigeon voiced by iJustine who gets “offline” and claims “Everything’s so real!” when she is forced off the wire to help the protagonists find Richard’s family. I have to admit, that recurring joke was funnier than I expected and it even lead to a plot point in the third act.
Even though there are a bunch of several colorful characters to grab people’s attention, I had an issue with Olga’s character and the ramifications of her development. Sure, she does some disgusting things like eating bugs (including swallowing a scorpion later on), hacking owl pellets and burping while eating trash that a sparrow offers, but the main issue I had with her was how they portrayed her personality trait of always talking to the imaginary Oleg. She reveals in a backstory (done in 2D animation of all things) that she was way too big to be a pygmy owl. Olga was rejected by her friends and family for being a giant freak which left her with no one to talk to. After getting kicked out of the nest, she “finds” Oleg after lamenting that she has no friends or anyone. That was way more depressing than it had any right to be and it’s similar to someone with multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder despite her imaginary friend issues being played for laughs. Much like Ben X, it trivializes a legit mental condition and it makes her communicating to the non-existent Oleg a defining personality trait. She gets made fun of by Richard because of her delusions while she argues about him believing he’s a stork. This could have been a character developing moment later on as Olga realizes that she has real birds as friends. When she’s unconscious after landing in the ocean liner pool, the only way she wakes up is Richard telling her that Oleg is here and she finally comes to. She also insists that Richard introduces Oleg to the rest of the storks when he finally reunites with his adoptive family. Way to downplay a serious issue, guys.
The music itself was nothing to write home about, but it serves a purpose. There’s a mix of orchestral pieces, acoustic tracks, and some mood music that’s appropriate although it’s not memorable. The only memorable music involved is the covers of “I’m Coming Out” by Kiki and another parakeet named Coco. The ending theme “We’re Coming Home” is a disco pop track by Stacey King that was middle in the road for me. I get why they chose that aesthetic for the song, but they could have made it sound more playful like “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, Pharrel, and Nile Rogers or “Adventure of a Lifetime” by Coldplay for example.
A Stork’s Journey is an average movie even though I didn’t have high expectations for a CGI feature like this. There are competent elements like the animation and music, but nothing breathtaking. Some of the moments are legitimately funny, but there are some cringe worthy moments peppered in. I do take issue with the implications of Olga and Kiki in how those characters are portrayed. A Stork’s Journey is a mainly innocuous movie for families, but there are much better choices out there.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-3 points if you like cute birds in movies
Subtract 2 points if flawless CGI means everything to you
-The social media telephone wire jokes
-Competent CGI designs for the animals
-Improved animation in the 2nd half of the film
-Olga’s mental issues played for laughs
-Unoriginal storylines and plot points
-Boring human CGI designs
Final Score: 5/10 points
Content Warning: It’s safe for families and children to watch. There are some scary scenes such as Richard’s birth parents getting eaten or with the honey badger in the final act of the film. Olga is a bird of prey and she makes it obvious while eating bugs or casually talking about eating other animals. There’s one scene where some seagulls bet on Richard jumping off a cliff (he’s trying to fly), but there’s a subtext of them wanting him to commit suicide by falling and it doesn’t help because this is after he realizes he’s a sparrow and not a stork.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.