Migration review: A solid animation for the family this holiday

If you need to take the kids to a movie this holiday season it should be Migration. It has amazingly crisp visuals, the story and writing are actually rather decent and it bucks the trend of bloated runtimes with a brisk 131 minutes of air. Really the perfect formula for succeeding as an end of year animation.

Okay that’s the review. We want to knock off for the year. We’re so tired. We wish we could fly expense-free to a tropical paradise like the characters in this movie but we’ll take any break from work.

Fine, fine let’s actually talk about it.

Migration is the latest animation from Illumination. The house built on Minions is absolutely flush with cash after the insane success with the The Super Mario Bros. Movie all the way back in April and the general public was eagerly waiting to see what the company would do next.

That next project is based on a family of Mallard ducks who are relatively happy in their sheltered pond, but the idea to migrate to Jamaica is put into their heads as a call to adventure by a visiting duck family. After some hesitation it’s on to a bumpy journey of self-discovery that touches on all the tropes. Family. Happiness. Inner fears. Comfort. Family again. It’s all here.

That family, and the movie, is headlined by Kumail Nanjiani as the father duck and Elizabeth Banks as the mother duck. Their children are voiced by Caspar Jennings and Carol Kane but the real attraction here is Danny DeVito as the crotchety “Uncle Dan” who we sorely wish got more lines in this movie.

Awkwafina is also here, along with some other guest voice roles such as Super Mario Bros. Movie alum Keegan-Michael Key. Those five form the core of the movie and you will be spending most of your time with them. Those unhappy to see the Awkwafina media saturation reach even this vector of entertainment will be happy to know that she doesn’t overstay her welcome.

The voice acting is on the good side here with, as we mentioned, DeVito being our favourite of the bunch. Banks is a close second for pure vocal performance and the rest of the cast falls somewhere behind the rest.

Nanjiani’s character is the main character and his performance is, well, serviceable. Nanjiani put zero effort or affectations into this role. This isn’t “the character Mack Mallard, a duck in the movie Migration” it’s “actor Kumail Nanjiani using his regular speaking voice in a union acting job”. If we can’t have seasoned voice actors in these big budget animations anymore, could they at least pick leads who put some effort into their craft?

The writing, like the voice acting, is a similarly mixed bag that lands on the side of being good. It feels like much of the most solid writing, and humour, is front loaded for the beginning of the movie and the rest of the runtime more depends on action and adventure.

This is a real shame because the beginning did have some great lines and solid jokes. As the movie progresses it can start to feel a bit disjointed and otherwise disconnected. The best way to describe it is that it seems the writers and animators came up with some cool ideas for scenes and then made those up, and only after that bridges between those scenes needed to be created as an afterthought.

We’re not saying that’s what happened, only that the story and its events don’t feel as cohesive as they should be.

Similarly incohesive is the music. Much of it is entirely forgettable but there are one or two tracks we genuinely liked, especially during some of the movie’s more serious moments. The music – and its accompanying sound effects – that play when the duck family first enters a large city is legitimately good and we’re going to track it down to listen to outside of the movie.

An aspect of the movie we only have praise for is the animation. Everything in Migration is incredibly detailed and nice to look at. There’s simply nothing ugly on screen or any mistakes we could see. Say what you want about Illumination but that company has nailed this type of animation and it’s difficult to compare to anything else.

While the Spider-Verses, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem have all presented to us a different way of looking at animation, it is difficult not to look at the rock solid showing in Migration and like what it has done.

Before we saw Migration we thought that the holiday 2023 movie selection was looking a bit weak for those who need something for the kids. Wish and Trolls Band Together are still in theatres but have come back with rather poor reviews on top of being musicals which can sometimes be insufferable.

Outside of animation the options for families mostly fall on Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (which is receiving expectedly bad reviews) and Wonka (which is receiving unexpectedly good reviews, but is another musical).

If you’re not going to watch Migration we recommend instead going to The Marvels, which we still maintain is a great time out at the movies that has been mostly unfairly maligned. It is still a good time and still good for people of all ages.

Migration is a movie made to do a job: put butts in seats over Christmas and the new year. We think it does that job rather well without falling into the trappings of toilet humour and fart jokes to carry itself like many other animations. It also doesn’t have the crutch of existing IP to lean on, making its success all the more earned.

That being said it just feels like nothing more. Like the team did exactly enough to make a decent movie and then called it a day and went home. We highly doubt many people will be talking about Migration in a few months after the holidays, but there is still a decent amount of heart in the final product.

We can’t help but like Migration for what it is, instead of disliking it for what it isn’t. See this one if you want the kids to have a good time for an hour and a half and for you to join them in that good time. If you’re not seeing it with kids in tow, maybe just look up the Danny DeVito parts in a few months.



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