'Storks': How an R-Rated Comedy Director and a Pair of Pixar Alums Created a Family-Friendly Film

‘Storks,' with a cast that includes Andy Samberg and Kelsey Grammer, relied heavily on improvisation.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

What do you get when you combine an R-rated live-action comedy director with a pair of Pixar alums? The answer is Storks, an unconventionally-made animated feature conceived and produced by the Warner Animation Group, the studio's feature animation unit. 

Storks, which opened nationwide today, is the child of writer/director Nicholas Stoller, who with no prior animation experience is perhaps best known as director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and writer/director of Get Him to the Greek; director Doug Sweetland, a veteran animator who has worked on a string of Pixar titles including Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and earned an Oscar nomination for directing Pixar's animated short Presto; and producer Brad Lewis, another Pixar alum, who produced the Oscar-winner Ratatouille and co-directed Cars 2 with John Lasseter.

Merging their varied experience, the filmmakers together created a computer-animated family film which begins with the premise that storks are out of the baby-delivery business, having found a more lucrative use of their skills in delivering mobile phones and other packages for Cornerstore.com. But when Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) is poised for a big promotion, the business accidently produces a baby, and he must deliver it before anyone finds out or risk loosing his new job.

“Nick’s an R-rated comedy director, and that’s certainly not what this movie is,” producer Lewis tells THR. “Nick wanted to make a movie for everyone. We don't want to pander to children, and we don’t want to scare kids.”

Lewis described the WAG culture on the film as “a land of invention—character invention and situational invention," explaining that the production relied heavily on improv from a voice cast that along with Samberg includes Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and newcomer Katie Crown.

On most animated movies, the actors often record their dialog separately. But that wasn't the case with Storks. “Nick wanted the voice cast all together [for recording sessions],” Lewis says. “In the sessions, Nick would say, 'let’s just workshop things,' and the actors would improv based on the situation in the pages. He would throw in thoughts or a word or line to the actors, who are all comedic professionals. Suddenly a three-minute scene would have an hour of back and forth. And you had a scene where they were really interacting with each other. What we would come out with would sometimes be 100 percent different than what we went in with on the page.”

Editor John Venzon, whose credits include South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Flushed Away, took notes during the sessions and then put together a version of the scene, while planning what additional story elements might be needed. “John was taking notes on what made Nick laugh the hardest. The improv was really new ideas,” says Lewis. 

With their animation backgrounds, Sweetland and Lewis worked closely with Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver, which created animation that was inspired by the big, Looney Tunes-style that defines classic Warner Bros. animation. Says Lewis: “Doug has such a kinship with what great animation has been in our history and in a weird way he’s so suited for Warner Bros. You can see the influence of the great Warner Bros. Looney Tunes animation."

Added Lewis, "Warner Bros. is so supportive of us as filmmakers. We feel like we can make big creative strides. There’s such a level of trust.”

WAG's new The Master: A Lego Ninjago Short will play before Storks in theaters.