The daffy animators at Illumination have made a (just-barely) Minion-free CGI animated comedy about a flock of ducks who are initially hesitant to join the others as they migrate.
“Migration” follows Mack Mallard (Kumail Nanjiani), the father duck who urges his family of four to stay put and not behave like conformists. His wife Pam (Elizabeth Banks) disagrees, as do his kids, who feel like their father is too afraid of seeking adventure and possibilities outside of their pond.
Mack finally gives in, and the ducks find unexpected struggles and complications by traveling so far outside of their comfort zone.
This slight, mild Illumination comedy takes the DNA of “Finding Nemo” (Dad is too afraid of everything) and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (we need to get out of our comfort zone) and turns it into a bird story.
The flying scenes are thrilling, and the music score by John Powell is wonderful. If only the entire film could have consisted of this! Or, even better, one could stay home and watch “Winged Migration” (this movie without the duck chatter) and “Fly Away Home” (still amazing after all these years).
Nanjiani is yet another great stand-up comic with an unsteady film career – if “The Big Sick” was the highpoint, then this is somewhere in the middle, while “Stuber” and that new “Twilight Zone” episode at the very bottom.
Banks does what the role requires but nothing here is ever as funny as a single scene in her “Cocaine Bear.”
Danny DeVito (a veteran at providing vocal performances for animated films) has the most amusing character and is the biggest standout among the cast. Awkwafina and Keegan-Michael Key should have stolen this, but both are on auto pilot here.
“Migration” is hit and miss the whole way, with laugh-free stretches, sitcom-level jokes (at best) and a strange, episodic plot. Screenwriter Mike White makes the weird decision to satirize yoga culture and backwoods horror movies, hardly topics the film’s intended audience will be familiar with.
Who is this for, again?
It was an intriguing idea to bring in the author of “Chuck and Buck” and “School of Rock” to write a children’s film, but the end result is odd and neutered.
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With “Wonka,” “The Boy and the Heron” and “Robot Dreams” currently in theaters, “Migration” seems especially frivolous. There are better options currently playing.
However, in full disclosure – I took my grade school-age daughter to see this and she thought it was “awesome,” particularly DeVito’s Uncle Dan character. On the other hand, I keep hearing from parents that the villainous Chef character, who pursues the ducks, actually scared some of the young kids in attendance.
The crass, stupid Minions-led animated short that opens this is more on brand than the film itself. Illumination has produced an uneven, wildly popular body of work, most of which are frantic, low-brow babysitters. Outside of “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” there’s nothing in their output that I prefer over the best of Pixar.
Their latest has exquisite animation but, when it isn’t headed in the wrong direction, “Migration” is entirely formulaic.