Review by Sean Boelman
Illumination made a name for itself with the Despicable Me franchise and has been chasing that same success since. The studio has had some one-off successes, but many of its outings feel like attempts to kick off a new series. Their latest, Migration — from Ernest & Celestine director Benjamin Renner — is a refreshingly self-contained little adventure, making this a fun outing for the whole family.
The film follows a family of mallards who encounter unexpected obstacles when they embark on their first-ever migration. What they hoped would be the vacation of a lifetime turns into an exhilarating adventure. With a runtime of just over 90 minutes, there’s not a lot of breathing room, and the story moves from one encounter to the next, but the pacing flying by is a great choice for children and parents alike.
With a script by Mike White, it should be no surprise that Migration contains a wide variety of humor. Although White has a few stinkers (*cough* The Emoji Movie *cough*), his more acclaimed work (The White Lotus, School of Rock) is charmingly funny. The humor in this family-friendly adventure has some lowbrow and slapstick jokes, but also a few scenes — such as one rousing dance sequence in the middle — that are unexpectedly creative.
What is more surprising about Migration, though, is how shockingly affirming it is. On its surface, the message is relatively simple: letting go of one’s fears and embracing positive risk. Yet, this encouragement to break free of one’s nest is inspiring — especially if you are someone who has settled into comfort for far too long.
Surprisingly, the voice cast isn’t particularly distinctive in their roles, even if they are good. The only standout is Carol Kane, who brings her signature flair to her scene-stealing part. The main cast — Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina, Keegan Michael-Key, Danny DeVito, and Isabella Merced — are all fine, but none make the role their own like Kane.
Instead, the movie gets tremendous goodwill from how much the audience buys into this family dynamic. Despite the characters exhibiting all the cliches and tropes of the traditional nuclear family, it’s hard not to be at least endeared to them. There are never really any stakes — it is a kids’ movie, after all — but audiences will still be rooting for their triumph.
In terms of the animation, the focus is firmly on the beauty of the locations. The visuals do a great job of inspiring awe at the majesty of the locations we are greeted with. As for the character design, it’s mostly straightforward, very polished, and extremely cute — in other words, exactly what you would expect from an Illumination flick.
Migration is a pleasant surprise from the folks at Illumination. Although it may not offer much in the way of originality, it does have charming characters, an inspiring message, and, most importantly, plenty of laughs. In a holiday season where most of the family-friendly offerings have underwhelmed, parents and their young ones should flock to Migration.
Migration hits theaters on December 22.