A family-friendly film from Illumination, Migration is a colorful, sincere story about a family of Mallards daring to leave behind the safety of their pond for a grand adventure that is sure to bring a smile to everyone's faces.
Migration Movie Review
Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) has carved out the perfect home for his family in a serene New England pond. There is plenty of food and shelter plus no predators. The only thing missing is excitement. After meeting a family of migrating birds that make a pitstop at their lake, his wife Pam (Elizabeth Banks), son Dax (Caspar Jennings), and daughter Gwen (Tresi Gazal) are eager to migrate to Jamaica themselves, for the first time ever. Mack is wholly against it but after talking to his Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito), Mack decides it's time to have an adventure and see more of the world. Along the way they help out a caged Parrot named Delroy (Keegan-Michael Key), fight an evil chef, and most importantly strengthen their family bonds.
Directed by Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy, Migration tells the universal story of parents learning to let their children take risks and spread their wings, even if that means leaving the safety of the pond. But it's also about how parents need to remember to live a little themselves, and allow their inner child to come out once in a while. The simple but sincere script from Mike White and Renner doesn't patronize its audience as it checks off all the genre tropes– relationships, confronting fears, finding happiness, and sibling rivalry. Rather it delivers colorful animation with a genuine heart that is ideal for families looking for something to watch this holiday season.
Admittedly when the teaser for this first popped up before Super Mario Bros The Movie, myself and others were left underwhelmed. It didn't necessarily tease anything of note and I went into the screening with little expectations. Thankfully the film was infinite times better than I thought it was going to be based on that teaser. The standouts in the voice cast, the beautiful animation (that is blessedly not as harsh as The Secret Life of Pets), and the endearing story make Migration a delight. It also marks Illumination's return to original characters, which hopefully they continue to explore. Not everything needs to be Minions…just saying.
Visually, Migration uses the studios' standard 3D stylings but takes a step back from the more blinding and stark composite shots of its other films. It is still colorful and eye-catching but in a way that leans more into the realistic. This natural feel is fitting since this is a story about wild birds. It doesn't look like an Illumination film necessarily and that's a plus. As we have seen with Across the Spider-Verse, Mutant Mayhem, and Wish, changing up art styles is a positive. By incorporating traditional animation with the 3D and touching on Pixar-style realism at times Migration feels like a fresh offering from the studio, not a rinse and repeat.
There are some snappy moments in the dialogue, most belonging to DeVito's Uncle Dan but Renner also falls back on his 2D animation days and goes for classic visual gags. Awkwafina's Chump (who does not overstay her welcome) is subjected to being repeatedly hit by cars in true Looney Tunes style fashion, before deciding to change course on her tour. Then there are the “puppy dog” eyes that border on psychotic whenever Gwen is trying to persuade others to let her get into some mischief.
Migration spends most of its time with the Mallard family, with some fun cameos popping up here and there. Unlike with some other lackluster voice performances this year (no I'm not naming names this close to the holidays) this cast didn't phone it in. Nanjiani and Banks bring warmth to their roles as the parents. Banks is the balance of free-spirit and protective mom while Nanjiani adds just the right amount of neurotic paranoia to his role as Mack. Jennings and Gazal carry most of the film as the Mallard siblings and they do an incredible job. Maybe it's the parent in me but I couldn't help but root for these little ducklings as they took flight, determination in their eyes.
The vocal standouts however are the always amazing Carol Kane who voices a slightly nutty heron named Erin. Her character is reminiscent of Kane's take on Grandmama in The Addams Family Values, a bit eccentric, possibly terrifying, but really just welcoming to all. Key brings his bubbly energy to Delroy, making him the perfect companion to the more stiff Mack. DeVito is underused in my opinion, but pitch-perfect as the grouchy, aloof, yet kind crazy uncle. His moments make up almost all of my favorite points of the film.
Humans are not really a factor in the film. There is the villain– an evil French chef determined to make a perfect Duck à l'Orange. However, other than looking like a Beatles reject, is immediately forgettable. Sure he is there to add peril to their journey but ultimately ends up being not all that necessary. In fact I would argue the real villain of Migration is giving into one's fear. Speaking of humans, they don't speak save for a latin rendition of “Survivor” by Destiny's Child and it's the right call. With camera angles almost always from the duck's point of view, the humans don't need to talk to get the point across. They are towering giants to the birds and pose a threat whether they are a crazed chef or just a random street vendor in New York City.
Migration's central plot may be obvious but it delivers it with an earnest heart. As the film gets into the deeper themes of overcoming anxiety, facing challenges, and death, it does so with a tender touch, much like a parent guiding their children through life. It is as much about parenthood and letting go as it is about growing up. But at its heart it is also a reminder to never let your curiosity die, because life is boring without taking any risks. Despite these more serious emotional beats, it never gets too dark, balancing the need for solid character growth and stakes with humor.
Ultimately, Migration is a sleeper hit for the holidays. The story is simplistic yet sweet and thoughtful, with beautiful animation and some laugh-out-loud moments. Parents and kids alike will find something to love here, whether they yearn to grow up or want to recapture some of their youth. It can also be a doorway to discussions between tweens and teens with their parents about rules, freedom, and risk. If you're looking for a film to watch during Winter break, put this one at the top of your list.
Migration releases in theaters December 22. The film is rated PG for action, peril, and mild rude humor with a runtime of 92 minutes.