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Review: ‘Migration’ is refreshingly original and sweet

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Migration, the newest animated tale from Illumination, directed by Benjamin Renner and written by Mike White, flies into theaters this weekend, just in time for winter breaks and the holiday season. Migration is refreshingly original and sweet. It’s a fast-paced, heartwarming story with a positive message about family, bravery, and doing things out of your comfort zone. 

[Warning: light spoilers and impressions for Migration are below!]

The story of Illumination’s Migration

Migration is about a family of ducks (surprise!) who go on an unexpected adventure as they migrate south for the winter. What’s unique about the family is that even though they are ducks, they’ve never migrated before. Their little duck unit, led by Mack (Kumail Nanjiani), is happy as, well… ducks in a pond, in their secluded New England waterway. That is, until another flock of colorful tropical ducks on their way to Jamaica stops by the pond for a rest. 

On a break from their journey south for the winter, the tropical ducks unlock a spirit of adventure in the duck family, for almost everyone but Mack that is. After Mack shuts down a family invite from one of the tropical ducks to his son Dax (Caspar Jennings) to migrate to Jamaica too, cracks appear in the idea that the ducks are happy in their Northern existence. Pam (Elizabeth Banks), Mack’s wife, isn’t pleased about never leaving their pond, while Gwen (Tresi Gazal) seems to have picked up many of Mack’s neuroses and fears.

After a visit with Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito), Mack changes his mind because he doesn’t want to end up alone and lose his family like the old duck. He wakes everyone up to tell them about his change of heart, and the adventure begins. And it’s definitely an adventure. Most of the movie is about their journey south and the adventures along the way.

They end up in New York City at one point, where they meet a tough pigeon named Chump (Awkwafina), a Jamaican duck Delroy (Keegan Michael Key), and a Salt-bae-esque villain, too. There are more surprises on their journey, too, but you’ll have to watch the movie to unlock them.

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Gwen (Tresi Gazal), Dax (Caspar Jennings), Kim (Isabela Merced). Migration (Illumination).

The parent perspective on this animated family film

As a parent, Migration is refreshing on so many levels. As we enter the story and world of the movie, our first thought is that this movie will be about kids going against their parent’s wishes and ending up in trouble. Mack is happy in the pond, and when Dax wants to fly off to new horizons with the tropical duck, Mack is against it. Pam wants to see the world, too, and that’s a source of conflict in Mack and Pam’s relationship.

Dax’s desire to experience the world despite his dad’s objection is a common trope across kids’ media. And one partner wanting more is also a prevalent theme in grown-up media and life, too. (Hello, couples therapy!) But Migration is not about that. The movie is actually, as a whole, about positive family communication and working things out together. There are no dramatic ultimatums but healthy (if heated!) conversations, growth, testing boundaries, and a whole lot of fun.

While the characters, Mack especially, and Gwen too, to an extent, have their fears and comfort zones, they quack things out and work it out together as a family. It’s a model of healthy relationship communication, and that was so lovely to see. Yes, there are hijinks and a ton of fun along the way as each character grows to deal with their external circumstances (angry restaurant villain!). But it’s still framed in this positive way, and as a parent, I loved that. (As a writer, too, I loved that the characters were multidimensional and had arcs and growth.)

All the actors behind the voices in Migration really soared and did a great job. Again, it shows that casting and voice acting matter even regarding kids’ fare. Mack and Pam (Kumail Nanjiani and Elizabeth Banks) have married couple chemistry in the best way. The sibling chemistry between Gwen and Dax (Tresi Gazal and Caspar Jennings) was totally believable, too. All of it was funny and never forced. It added so much to the story.

Surprising moments in Migration

Kids’ movies often give away much of the story in the trailers. This is as much for parents as it is for children to get them excited about the movie. If you’re going to haul the family to a theater, you want to know that it is worth it. I was pleasantly surprised, Migration did not give away all the surprises and fun in the trailer. There were so many funny moments, driven by the characters, that I did not see coming. Migration was a delight. And Carol Kane and David Mitchell are, too.

The animation and music

Migration is an animated movie about ducks. At first glance, you would think there is nothing revolutionary to be done in the Duck space, especially after peak Duck with Darkwing Duck in the ahem, early 90s. You would be wrong. 

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Uncle Dan (Danny Devito), Gwen (Tresi Gazal), Dax (Caspar Jennings), Mack (Kumail Nanjiani), and Pam (Elizabeth Banks). Migration (Illumination).

The animation of Migration is beautiful and realistic. This is noteworthy considering it’s director Benjamin Renner’s first foray into 3D work after a feted career, where he nabbed an Oscar nomination for Ernest and Celestine and his 2D work. There are moments in Migration when the characters are in the sky, flying amongst the clouds, and you feel like you’re there, too. (It reminded me of my first feelings 30 years ago when I saw an early IMAX nature film at a science museum. You are soaring.) The flight sequences were just really cool and breathtaking. It’s a credit to all the animators at Illumination and beyond who worked on this project. 

Of particular note in Migration is the music in the movie. Yes, “Out of the Woods (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift does feature, but it’s not what defines the film. John Powell’s incredible score for Migration helps make the film. Powell is a film music giant. The English composer is both Grammy-nominated and Academy Award-nominated for his work and has scored things like Happy FeetHow to Train Your Dragon, and Solo: A Star Wars Story.  

The score that John Powell has done to accompany Migration is simply perfect. It’s a mix of orchestral, gorgeous strings, and vocal notes that complement the story in the best way. The music makes you feel like you’re flying. 

Final thoughts on Illumination’s Migration

With the original IP, you can almost hear the studio drum for a sequel in the distance. While Migration’s end leaves room for a sequel, the conclusion is still satisfying. And there’s Toothpick. We don’t want to make Toothpick sad.

Migration is worth checking out in theaters with your family this winter break. It’s an epic adventure that is great for all ages, has a ton of really positive themes, and a fun story boosted by delightful music. Illumination has outdone itself. 

Migration is in theaters this weekend! Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you plan on seeing this film in theaters!

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Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews: movieswetextedabout.com

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