It would be hard for anyone interested in animated films to not have an eye on Illumination right now. Over the past decade, the studio has quickly established itself as a powerhouse for animated success – even in times in which more well-established names such as Disney and DreamWorks are struggling to discern what their audience is after. While not revolutionizing the genre, Illumination has developed a reputation for putting together stories that are fast and funny enough for just about any kid and serviceable enough for adults to hear on an inevitable background loop. Migration is no exception to this rule.
The setup is simple and likely familiar to anyone who’s seen a lot of family films – an overprotective dad strives to keep his family safe from harm’s way, at the same time not realizing the benefits of letting them see the world and learn from their own mistakes. Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, Ponyo…the list is sizable (especially going beyond animated animals). Such a predictable premise is still able to provide some laughs and smiles, however, from the performances of its cast and the genuine feeling of the family dynamic.
Mack, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, is the reluctantly adventuring father duck, whose dry sense of humor is most likely to provide laughs for the grownups. His wife Pam, voiced by Elizabeth Banks, plays well off of him as a voice of reason with a strong spirit of adventure. That spirit of adventure appears to have been passed down to both of their kids. The family all play well off of each other – not too saccharine but still full of love for each other through their ups and downs. Eccentric Uncle Dan, voiced by Danny DeVito, also gets brought along for the ride and has plenty of chuckle-worthy one-liners, though his role is backseated a bit compared to the rest of the family. Another standout in the supporting cast is Awkwafina as strong yet soft-hearted pigeon leader Chump, possibly her best animated role yet with the emotion and humor she brings to the character.
The majority of the runtime consists of the expected pitfalls you might expect from ducks who’ve never migrated before, placing them in slapstick situations with other animals and a chef whose presence is far more menacing from the fact we never hear him speak, an interesting gimmick to add with talking animals. These experiences help to show Mack that the world, despite all its potential dangers, has some benefits to reap from the company you keep and the experiences you have. That may sound like a rather simple moral, but it can resonate with a child and adult audience in a world full of division and doomscrolling, in which the easiest solution can appear to be to isolate from it all.
Beyond the family’s adventure, the film’s beautiful scenery alone could have made that point to Mack. Illumination goes the extra mile in the film’s bright colors and vibrant portrayals of the various areas the ducks fly over and stop in on their way to Jamaica. It’s no Spider-Verse, but it’s very nice to look at, something that can’t always be said about CGI.
As an adult viewer, one drawback of the story is feeling like it could’ve easily had another twenty minutes or so, giving the plot setups room to breathe and allowing us to explore smaller details. For example, we don’t exactly know why Mack is so terrified of migration – the only explanation we’re given is he’s always been like this, and it’s enough to keep the story moving. He can switch between that fear and loosening up a bit too quickly depending on what the plot needs, but that’s easy enough to write off as a dad wanting to make his wife and kids happy. Uncle Dan’s backseat in the story is a bit surprising, considering Pam’s initial hesitation to bring him along – they all get along swimmingly later on, which might make one wonder if some plot development was left on the cutting room floor to keep the runtime short.
Overall, Migration serves as a very serviceable entry in animated films that are truly suitable for all audiences. There’s pretty much nothing to object to or that could frighten a child in here, and if the story seems too paint-by-numbers for grownups, they’ll find something to enjoy in the humor or simply take in the beautiful portrayal of Manhattan. This is one to migrate to, especially if you’ve got young kids at home.
As of this review, Migration is still playing in some theaters but is also available to rent or own digitally through various retailers.