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December 22, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key, David Mitchell, Carol Kane, Caspar Jennings, Tresi Gazal, Danny DeVito

Directed By: Benjamin Renner

The Mallard family is in a bit of rut. While dad Mack is content to keep his family safe paddling around their New England pond forever, mom Pam is eager to shake things up and show their kids—teen son Dax and duckling daughter Gwen—the whole wide world. After a migrating duck family alights on their pond with thrilling tales of far-flung places, Pam persuades Mack to embark on a family trip, via New York City, to tropical Jamaica.

As the Mallards make their way South for the winter, their well-laid plans quickly go awry. The experience will inspire them to expand their horizons, open themselves up to new friends and accomplish more than they ever thought possible, while teaching them more about each other—and themselves—than they ever imagined.

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Migration takes flight thanks to a talented voice cast that brings some great laughter to this animated flick, that even though the story falls into familiar tropes after some moments I would never thought I would see in a family film these days thanks to Mike White, it remains an enjoyable time at the movie theatre for younger viewers.

Illumination has been responsible for numerous animated hits, including the Despicable Me series and The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and they are hoping to strike gold once again with their latest film: Migration. It uses their studios formula to create a film that feels similar to most of their previous films with its themes about family, with a laugh filled adventure with memorable characters that has some great surprises up its sleeve with Mike White being in charge of the story. As with all of their films, there is a great mixture of moments tailor made for younger viewers and some moments that will have parents bursting out in laughter, that makes for a truly enjoyable film that is a commendable addition to Illumination’s library.

The Mallard family is safely situated at their pond, which is how Mack likes it. But when a foreign flock of ducks make a pit stop at their pond on their way to Jamaica for the winter, Mack’s kids and wife want to change things up. Trying to appear as the not paranoid patriarch of the family, Mack agrees to a family trip to Jamaica for the winter, which never goes according to plan as they encounter strange new locations on their journey south, make unexpected friends along the way, and learn more about each other as a family during their travels.

There is a standard look to Illumination films in terms of their animation that immediately signals to the audience they are watching one of their films. And as with all of their films, the animation looks great. It is crisp, colourful and detailed, creating an enticing visual experience that will no doubt capture your attention for the film’s entire runtime. But after a year with so many animated films pushing the boundaries of the genre, experimenting with new styles to deliver unforgettable and visionary animated moments, and not even exciting camera work to truly bring this film to life like Illumination did with The Super Mario Bros. Movie earlier this year, Migration feels too safe compared to the rest of the films we’ve seen in the genre this year.

What makes Migration come to life is the voice cast, with each actor fitting perfectly into their role. Kumail Nanjiani and Elizabeth Banks are delightful as the leads of the film as Mack and Pam Mallard. Nanjiani’s voice captures the anxiety ridden Mack who is scared of everything and not willing to adventure outside of his comfort zone, leading to lots of hilarious moments on their trip, while Banks' calming and slightly sarcastic tone perfectly calls out Mack while making a path forward for her family. While you only can Nanjiani while hearing his voice come out of Mack’s mouth, Banks, while being recognizable, fully becomes her character and begs the question why she has not been cast in more animated films. Caspar Jennings and Tresi Gazal steal the show as Dax and Gwen Mallard, instantly earning a place in their audience heart with their instantly lovable characters. They both capture a youthful energy that has their characters flying off the screen, whether it be Jennings as the proud and confident Dax or Gazal as the sweet and innocent Gwen. The supporting cast is all great with fun appearances by Danny DeVito, Keegan-Michael Key and David Mitchell, but it is Carol Kane as Erin the Heron and Awkwafina as Chump, the scrappy leader of the New York City pigeon gang, that you won’t soon forget.

In terms of story, Migration plays out as you expect it to, but for the first two thirds of the film, it's got a wicked sense of humour. The Mallard family’s trip goes wayside almost immediately, setting up some truly hilarious encounters along the way. The encounters themselves will be a hit with older audiences, notably the overnight stay with the herons and the New York City pigeon gang which are both hilarious, which should come as no surprise as the film’s story and screenplay come from Mike White, the genius behind hits like School of Rock and The White Lotus. Leave it to White to create a tension filled moment that borders on horror, only then to flip the moment on its head and turn it into a hilarious and heartfelt moment, resulting in one of my favourite scenes of the year. Yes, these moments may be a little much for viewers under the age of five, but it calls back to the family films of the 1980s which always had a sense of danger, not afraid to scare viewers, to make the heartfelt moments that followed more powerful. It’s clear that by the third act White’s creative control was tightened as he directed the story to the expected happy ending, focusing on an underdeveloped villain to get the Mallard family to place thematically where they needed to be, that even though it results in the film losing the spark that made the first two acts so entertaining, it's still a solid film overall.

I still cannot believe that Migration had a scene that felt like it was about to go all horror movie killing spree on the Mallard family, but that is just the genius of Mike White at play. While the animation looks like every other Illumination film and it does not push the boundaries of the art unlike so many other films in the genre this year, the terrific voice cast helps to bring to life the brilliance of Mike White’s story and screenplay to create a spirited adventure in Migration that is full of fun, laughter and heart.

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