Illumination, the creative powerhouse behind beloved animated films like ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Sing,’ and ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie,’ has diverged from its usual childlike outlook in its latest venture, ‘Migration.’ The studio’s iconic Minions, typically reminiscent of careening toddlers, step aside as the film takes on a subtly more mature tone.
At the heart of ‘Migration’ is Mack Mallard, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, a father duck whose anxieties and paranoia have confined his feathered family to a quaint New England pond. Encouraged by his wife, played by Elizabeth Banks, and their two ducklings portrayed by Caspar Jennings and Tresi Gazal, Mack reluctantly embarks on a journey south to Jamaica for their first winter migration.
The film, vividly animated with warm cartoon tones that pay homage to classic characters like Daffy Duck, explores a narrative that introduces a parental perspective. Penned by the creator of “White Lotus,” Mike White, ‘Migration’ unfolds as a family road trip sans the road, gently nudging viewers toward the idea of embracing long-delayed Caribbean vacations.
While the animation quality remains impressive, ‘Migration’ struggles to break free from the familiar territory of overly cautious parents turned adventurers. The storyline takes a somewhat predictable turn, and the novelty of a helicopter parent duck who can actually fly only adds a modest layer of originality.
As the Mallard family takes flight, accompanied by Uncle Dan, voiced by Danny DeVito, their journey includes encounters with quirky characters and unpredictable challenges. These include a night with a bug-eyed heron, voiced by Carol Kane, who crafts them a bed in a frying pan; a New York rendezvous with a flock of pigeons led by Awkwafina; a parrot, portrayed by Keegan-Michael Key, caged by a chef specializing in duck à l’orange; and a peculiar farm where ducks are treated ominously well.
While these escapades may not pose the typical dangers faced by migratory birds, such as loss of sanctuary or fluctuating climates, they add an element of whimsy and adventure to the narrative. Surprisingly, the most regular threat comes from the duck à l’orange chef, who has his own helicopter, injecting an unexpected layer of tension into the story.
As the plot unfolds, ‘Migration’ begins to feel more like a wild goose chase, a not entirely unwelcome quality for a holiday family movie. However, it leaves the film comfortably positioned as the second-best heron-featuring movie in theaters, with Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Boy and the Heron’ offering a richer imaginative experience and a more diverse array of avian life.
Perhaps sensing the need for an extra boost, Illumination has included a ‘Despicable Me’ short titled ‘Mooned’ to accompany ‘Migration.’ In this short, the Minions get a taste of zero gravity, providing a lighthearted break from the main feature.
Directed by Benjamin Renner, renowned for the enchanting 2012 film ‘Ernest and Celestine,’ ‘Migration’ falls short of capturing the delicacy of his earlier work. While the film may not reach the magical heights of the 2001 documentary ‘Winged Migration,’ it offers a pleasant diversion, especially considering the word ‘migration’ is often associated with crisis in today’s context.
Despite its shortcomings, ‘Migration’ manages to maintain a pleasant atmosphere, thanks in part to the lush sense of color that is a hallmark of Illumination’s productions. The film, like ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie,’ relies on this visual richness to compensate for its narrative limitations.
In conclusion, ‘Migration,’ set for release by Universal on December 22, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for action/peril and mild rude humor. Running at a duration of 92 minutes, the film earns a respectable two and a half stars out of four. While it may not break new ground in the genre, ‘Migration’ still offers fine bird watching and a pleasant escape into an animated world of adventure and color.
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