Mack Mallard (voice of Kumail Nanjiani) is quite content living on the small New England pond that provides food and safety for his wife Pam (voice of Elizabeth Banks) and ducklings Dax (voice of Caspar Jennings) and Gwen (voice of Tresi Gazal), but when a flock of white ducks stop by on their annual trip to Jamaica, adventurous Pam, smitten Dax and excited Gwen are all overwhelmingly in favor of “Migration.”
Laura's Review: C
It is surprising to learn that 'The White Lotus's' Mike White cowrote this screenplay with director Benjamin Renner ("The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales") as there is nothing original or surprising about this tale that echoes earlier animations like Dreamworks’ “Madagascar,” the anthropomorphized-animals-looking-for-escape journey requiring numerous obstacles be overcome on the way to the ultimate destination. “Migration” is a pleasant enough entertainment, featuring one truly outstanding bit of animation in its midsection, but its story feels cobbled together from things we’ve experienced before and it is almost impossible to separate its two leads from the actors voicing their characters.
Illumination announces itself with Minions playing the Universal theme on kazoo before we’re deposited in Moosehead Pond where the Mallards are torn between dad’s over protectiveness and mom’s desire for her children to experience all the world has to offer. There is also a big brother/little sister dynamic at play, Gwen all too eager to announce Dax’s wedding mere moments after he first crushes on Kim (voice of Isabela Merced), a young white duckling heading south. Feeling lesser in Pam’s eyes, Mack announces that the family will head to Jamaica, but his efforts to leave old Uncle Dan (voice of Danny DeVito) home on the pond are thwarted when Gwen issues an exaggerated plea of 'puhhhhleeeeze,’ winning the old Mallard over (and reminding of another Dreamworks’ gimmick, that of the manipulative big eyes of “Puss in Boots”).
The film, which was co-directed by Guylo Homsy, is episodic, the Mallards’ first outside encounter positively strange. Running into a storm, the family takes shelter under a pier where they are found by Erin the Heron (voice of Carol Kane), a cackling old loony who veers between malevolence and benevolence, her invitation to shelter with she and husband Harry keeping Mack and Pam on high alert. This bit could have been cut entirely.
After soaring up into the clouds, the Mallards are enveloped in fog, ominous red blinking on the horizon. The animators, who adhere to the Illumination aesthetic, create something really special here, that signal revealed as the blinking red aviation obstruction light atop an unseen skyscraper, the ducks suddenly finding themselves amidst a tunnel of towers. Mack, startled by his own reflection on the side of a building, fails to anticipate a construction girder and tumble skids across a rooftop, then hurtles down towards a Manhattan street. Finding their way into Central Park, Uncle Dan finds an abandoned sandwich, the wrath of park pigeons led by Chump (voice of Awkwafina) their next hurdle.
“Migration” twists itself into some bizarre knots attempting to reach its target, Chump eventually leading them to a depressed, caged Macaw, Delroy (voice of Keegan-Michael Key), who can tell them the way to his homeland. Of course Dax wishes to leave no bird left behind, and of course Delroy is owned by a chef who just happens to specialize in duck, a coincidence which will find them repeating the adventure just experienced in the underwhelming “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.” There will be harrowing near fatalities and an ever growing entourage but make no mistake, these birds will be partying in colorful environs much like the birds of “Rio.” And it all wraps with a sequel setup involving lost penguins, just like the “Madagascar” franchise.
“Migration” is a clear case where casting celebrities in vocal performances is detrimental to the overall effect, only Awkwafina and Keegan-Michael Key making any attempt to create a character outside of his or her own persona. There is probably enough colorful adventure to keep the little ones and those unfamiliar with the aforementioned ‘toons entertained. John Powell's dramatic orchestral score is also a plus.
“Migration” is preceded by Illumination short “Mooned,” in which Nefario finds himself stranded on the moon, outwitted at every turn by Minions. “Mooned’s” narrative is indebted to Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, another case of limited imagination, but at least it has those funny little yellow guys. B
Universal releases "Migration" in theaters on 12/22/23.