Migration Features Fabulous Fowl

(from left) Mack (Kumail Nanjiani), Gwen (Tresi Gazal), Dax (Caspar Jennings), Pam (Elizabeth Banks), Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito) and Delroy (Keegan-Michael Key) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner.

Migration is downright ducky. Rarely does one word sum up a whole film, but this delightful, animated film features marvelous mallards and amusing charm. Though the end shows signs of running out of fuel, Migration manages to wrap things up nicely before losing altitude. It’s a journey any audience can enjoy taking but will undoubtedly satisfy families.

The movie follows the Mallards. Poppa duck Mack is an overly anxious individual content to never leave their isolated, albeit quaint, pond. Pam, his significant other, is worried they’re in a rut, and worse, passing along a crippling fear of the outside world to their kids Gwen and Dax. When an unfamiliar flock lands in the pond on a southerly flight to Jamaica, it inspires the Mallards to do the same. Along the way they encounter a world wilder and more wonderful than anything they could imagine, yet every reward comes with a risk.

(from left) Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito), Gwen (Tresi Gazal), Dax (Caspar Jennings), Pam (Elizabeth Banks) and Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner. The Mallard duck family strands in the dirt driveway of a farm.
(from left) Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito), Gwen (Tresi Gazal), Dax (Caspar Jennings), Pam (Elizabeth Banks) and Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner.

Migration really sells the notion life is about experiences, good and bad, which make existence worthwhile. Even better, it does an amazing job of never invalidating the idea life is full of risks. It mainly does so by showing that actions sometimes necessitate being in danger such as when the Mallard family need to escape from a violent chef. At the same time, it shows that fears may be misplaced when individuals Mack has prejudiced his kids against turn out to be kind folks. Migration shows how much more rewarding life can be for those who take risks.

That said, this isn’t a heavy film pecking audiences to death with philosophical notions. Migration is lightheartedly amusing from start to finish. Jokes often earn at least a smile if not an outright laugh. Director Benjamin Renner and screenwriter Mike White have put together a film that embraces its cartoonish qualities nicely allowing for ambitious visual gags. At the same time, it relates its messages subtly allowing for the comedy to take flight.

Part of the reason there’s a charm to the whole movie is thanks in no small part to the excellent voice cast. Elizabeth Banks superbly imbues Pam with motherly characteristics as well as fiery fierceness, but her comedic timing cannot be underappreciated. Kumail Nanjiani manages to make Mack relatable without ever being too serious to detract from the overall comical tone. Tresi Grazal and Caspar Jennings are relative newcomers, but their voices fit the ducklings nicely while never getting cloying or lacking the right expression.

(from left) Erin (Carol Kane), Gwen (Tresi Gazal) and Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner. Erin a heron, holds the Mallards Pam and Mack in a tight hug.
(from left) Erin (Carol Kane), Gwen (Tresi Gazal) and Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner.

the supporting voices do a magnificent job as well. Carol Kane is an absolute gem as a slightly deranged heron the Mallards meet. Awkwafina brings a nice New York flare to Chump, a comically vitriolic Central Park pigeon. Keegan-Michael Key gives hearts a proper squeeze without losing the hilarity behind Delroy, a caged Jamaican parrot trapped in a restaurant. Lastly, Danny Devito is a fabulous addition as Uncle Dan. Each performer gives their role a distinct vibrance which keeps Migration energetic while ensuring the parts stand out uniquely.

One thing solidly assisting that energy is an ideal score from composer John Powell. The largely orchestral soundtrack seasons the mood of certain scenes in just the right ways. The musical atmosphere makes the Mallards’ adventure palpable on another level. It’s a welcome break from animated features overly relying on contemporary pop music chart toppers. Though that said, Mon Laferte performs an outstanding cover of “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. It’s a phenomenal example of less is more — one song instead of a nonstop barrage — and results in ducks salsa dancing which I didn’t realize my life was missing until I saw its certain je ne sais quack, if you will.

The animation in Migration is on the top shelf. The various birds seen throughout are not only individuals, but they never lose a storybook quality. Consequently, there’s a realism to what’s on screen, yet one safely cartoonish enough to never lose any overarching comic quality. This means certain moments can thrill without terrifying, such as kitchen scenes featuring dangerous chefs. Speaking of which, there is a villainous character stylistically reminiscent of every contemptible contemporary culinarian cliché that is just the al bacio. I was very delighted to see this buffoonish rendition of idiotic celebrity chefs like Salt Bae getting properly lampooned.

(from left) Chump (Awkwafina) and Pam (Elizabeth Banks) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner. Diminutive, crusty pigeon Chump locks eyes with an equally determined Pam the duck.
(from left) Chump (Awkwafina) and Pam (Elizabeth Banks) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner.

Any complaints about Migration honestly feel like nitpicking. No real reason is given for Mack’s initial anxieties, and he does tend to get over them rather quickly. The pace of the film stays well ahead of such thoughts leaving little time to dwell on the why behind certain events. Even within the expansive permissiveness of cartoons the end starts to strain credulity as it reuses an antagonist from earlier, but it’s nothing that ever derails the film entirely. It’s the kind of logic gaps and story issues adults will ponder way longer than children. With any luck, the parents out there will dwell more on the messages that children inherit the fears their parents pass down.

Migration is a thoroughly entertaining animated treat. Stellar voice-acting makes for memorable characters, each with their own amusing charms. Fabulous animation sets this film on a top tier, while musical accompaniment gilds it in gold. And it’s not just sight gags. The almost ethereal emergence of New York City as the Mallards fly in through fog is superb on every level. Families will certainly not want to miss Migration, but it’s likely to entertain anyone willing to watch.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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