By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—“Where do babies come from?”
For parents who’ve been dreading addressing that age-old question from their kids, the animated comedy “Storks” is arriving in theaters to help out.
The Warner Bros. comedy tells the story of Junior, a rising winged star at an Amazon-like business operation where storks deliver packages of goods, having long ago ceased delivering babies after a mishap. But troubles arise when our hero accidentally activates the long-dormant Baby Making Machine, which produces an adorable little girl.
Desperate to deliver this bundle of trouble before the boss gets wise, Junior and his friend Tulip, the only human on Stork Mountain, race to make their first-ever baby drop in a wild and revealing journey that could make more than one family whole and restore the storks’ true mission in the world.
Kelsey Grammer (“Toy Story 2,” “The Simpsons”) is part of an all star cast that includes Andy Samberg (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “Hotel Transylvania”), Katie Crown (Cartoon Network’s “Clarence”), Jennifer Aniston (“We’re the Millers,” “Horrible Bosses”), Ty Burrell (“Finding Dory,” “Modern Family”), Keegan-Michael Key (“The Angry Birds Movie,” “Key & Peele”), Jordan Peele (“Keanu,” “Key & Peele”) and Danny Trejo (“The Book of Life”).
Nicholas Stoller (“Neighbors,” “Muppets Most Wanted”) and Doug Sweetland (supervising animator on “Cars,” Oscar-nominated director of the animated short “Presto”) co-direct the feature, from a screenplay written by Stoller.
Tony and Emmy winning Grammer provides the voice of top bird Hunter, who runs his delivery operation with the precision of a military general and is a little more than peeved when he discovers his protégé has fouled things up. The veteran actor is no stranger to voiceover roles, most notably that of Bart Simpson’s chief antagonist Sideshow Bob on the long-running animated comedy series “The Simpsons.” He also provided the voice of Stinky Pete in “Toy Story 2” and Vladimir in 1997’s animated feature “Anastasia.”
At a press conference, Grammer, a father of six (with another reportedly on the way), spoke about his flighty role, discovering the birds and the bees and finding his inspiration for Hunter.
Q: What parts of the movie or script made you want to be a part of this project?
Grammer: For me, just celebrating babies, celebrating life, celebrating the gift that every child is.
Q: How did you learn about the birds and the bees?
Grammer: Actually my grandfather did have a little bit of a chat about it, but I sort of imagined some things already (He laughs.)
Q: Like what kind of stuff?
Grammer: I had an eye on a couple of girls when I was in kindergarten. There was something special about them so I kind of knew what was coming.
Q: How was going from playing Frasier Crane (on “Cheers” and “Frasier”) to playing a Stork?
Grammer: You have stumbled upon the darkest secret of the film. As I watched, I kept waiting for the line when Hunter says, “I’m not a stork. I’m a crane!” It was cut, wisely so, from the final cut of the movie. It was the crux of the film. However, it was attached to a piece of contemporary culture, which I think was wisely eschewed.
Q: Hunter can go so far to the dark side and frighten children with his dark vocal intonations, yet you find a moderation where you can be menacing but still playful. How do you, when you are doing voice acting, find that resonant level for creating the character without going too far into alienating younger audiences?
Grammer: Interesting. (respected British actor) John Gielgud once said, “Style is knowing what play you’re in.” Now, that may or may not help you. However, it was a question that I’d always have about any performance: How do you do that? Well, you just have to know what play you’re in. You have to know you are in a comedy. You have to know that you are actually allowing the audience to participate on some level.
When you go dark and mean it, then you don’t let them in. But in this performance, you know that there is something funny going on. It resonates always in the moment but also Nick (Stoller, the co-director) and the rest of the crew always understand that they are making the movie. It’s his movie. Whatever that performance is, they guide it a little bit. They also know when to stop and pull back. It’s supposed to be a kid’s movie so it’s okay. He’s not going to go too far.
What’s interesting about Hunter’s role in the movie, the purpose he plays, he’s kind of expositional honest. He kind of lays out what’s going on. When you do that, you have to just speak clearly and forcefully, with good diction. That can make all the difference.
Q: When you watch the film, do you see yourself in the character? I am sure they filmed you while you were recording your voice. Do you see any of your mannerisms?
Grammer: I always wonder in an animated performance if it’s there. A long time ago I did a film called “Anastasia” in which the character didn’t look anything like me. I said to (the filmmakers), “Please don’t borrow anything I do physically.” But then when I did (“Toy Story 2) with (director) John Lasseter and played Stinky Pete, and he said, “Do you mind if we run a camera and grab some of your visuals?” I said, “Now I get it. It would work here.”
But in this one, I’m not actually sure if they did anything like that, but I wasn’t playing myself in this. I was actually doing (comedic actor) Rip Torn. It didn’t matter (if they captured my mannerisms). I was imitating Rip Torn the whole time.
Q: Do you think this film will help parents have “the talk” with their kids?
Grammer: Yes. For the next 10 years, anybody with a kid that’s like three or four is off the hook.
Q: You recorded some of your dialogue with some of your fellow voice cast. Did recording with other actors in the room help you or hinder you in how you personified your character?
Grammer: We did our first scene together and I think that was very helpful. The subsequent recordings that I did were alone. It’s sort of based on that initial relationship.