Migration is the newest product from the same studio that brought audiences the Despicable Me and Minions franchise. After such a successful series, Illumination Studios partnered with Universal Studios to bring us a new story that focuses on cute anthropomorphic creatures who face a series of adventures, except that this time they are ducks. Mallard ducks, to be precise, as the very name of the characters suggests. Will they be as popular and profitable as the iconic Minions? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I was very excited to see what the mallards would get up to.
The film starts in a New England pond where an anxious duck, Mack Mallard (Kumail Nanjiani), lives with his daring and quick-witted wife Pam (Elizabeth Banks), and their kids Dax (Caspar Jennings) and Gwen (Tresi Gazal). When a group of migrating ducks arrives in the pond the mallards call home, the family’s desire to travel and explore the world is reignited, much to Mack’s worry as he would rather remain in the pond where he knows the family is safe. After a conversation with his uncle Dan (Danny DeVito), Mack is persuaded to join the adventure, where the mallard family will visit new places and meet enemies and friends, including Delroy (Keegan-Michael Key), a Jamaican macaw, and Chump (Awkwafina), the leader of a pigeon gang.
The most impressive element, as you’d perhaps expect, is its animation style. After all, this film comes from Benjamin Renner, previously known for his directing style in The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales… (2017), who is often associated with a minimalist drawing style. Working with Illumination Studios, Renner adapted the traditional animation style he is known for with computer animation; the result is stunning.
This is very important as much of this movie’s plot is rooted in the mallard’s desire to see the world. When they leave their pond and explore, the audience is also introduced to the colourful and varied beauty – as well as dangers – of the world through the detailed and impressive animation. The beginning of the film is a story within the story and, thus, made to look visually different. While the film is computer-animated, the opening scenes stand out compared to the rest of the fil, as they look more traditional.
I also really liked the musical score and its sound design. I particularly enjoyed the use of human vocals in the film, which felt like a homage to 1960s music. Each character has its theme: the music, much like the visuals and the script, is key to understanding who these ducks are and their character arc during the film. The sound certainly helped in creating a tense atmosphere during the most intense and dramatic scenes. This is especially true for the New York City scenes where the mysterious and dangerous atmosphere is conveyed both visually and through the music, which worked well with the overall pacing of the film.
Each of the characters in the film goes through their journey as they undertake the physical journey of the migration, which seems to call back the structure of the coming-of-age “bildungsroman” genre. While this genre often focuses on young characters, as the name suggests, in this film the psychological growth can apply to all the main characters. At its core, this film focuses on family first and foremost, which is a nice touch given the target audience.
Kids, too, will undoubtedly enjoy, with a good balance of laughs, tension, and heartwarming moments. However, it fails to cater to older audiences who may still appreciate the film for its beautiful animation and wonderful acting from the voice cast but will notice its flaws. For example, the script is sometimes too on the nose with some overplayed jokes, but the actors still make it enjoyable, I even found myself chucking at some of the funny moments too. And after all, it is important to remember that this is ultimately a film aimed at children who, at least judging from my screening, will love it.
Ultimately, this does play in the classic cartoon formula that we have seen before both with its narrative and with the design of its main characters. As regards the latter, this film plays into the trope of showing anthropomorphic animals as cute in animated movies. This is particularly successful as it creates a lot of possibilities for merchandising and generating venues outside of the film itself. It also allows the audience to identify with the main characters more easily, especially when the main villain is a human being who, on the contrary, is not cute nor do we want to identify with. In fact, I found it particularly significant that the humans never speak in this film but, instead, all the animals do, thus being portrayed as more human than the few human characters we see on screen.
With some very strong elements, namely the voice actors, sound design, and animation style, Migration is a fun film that kids will arguably enjoy more than grown-ups. The film, much like its protagonists, flies by as we watch the ducks get into any sort of trouble and danger they could not have imagined facing when they leave their homes. And I for one had a good time seeing both their physical and personal journey as we get to know the mallards a little better throughout the movie.
In UK cinemas February 02nd/ voice cast: Elizabeth Banks, Kumail Nanjiani, Tresi Gazal, Caspar Jennings, Keegan-Michael Key, Danny DeVito, Awkwafina / Dir: Benjamin Renner / Universal Pictures / PG