I went into Migration with no expectations. The first announcement teaser rubbed me the wrong way with how heavily it relied on using clips from Illumination’s other movies, i.e., Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, and The Super Mario Bros Movie. The song they used was Pharrell Williams’s “Just a Cloud Away,” a song written for Despicable Me 2. Whenever a movie markets the IP more than the story, it sets my expectations low (case in point, the final The Marvels trailer). Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I ended up loving this movie.
I never thought I would see the year when I would like an Illumination movie more than anything that Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks would have to offer. When it comes to this year’s animated movies, we’ve had Wish, Elemental, Trolls Band Together, and Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken. Nothing those three studios created this year gave me the amount of laughs and joy that I had during Migration. When I started belly-laughing during the opening scene, I knew I was in for something surprisingly funny. The opening reminded me of The Croods, which featured a father telling a horrifying story to his children. This one does that concept very well, and I found myself laughing just as much as the kids in the theater.
The premise surrounds a family of mallards who convince their overprotective father, Mack (Kumail Nanjiani), to let them migrate to Jamaica. The concept opens itself up to the quintessential road trip hijinks. Unlike most road trip movies, Migration follows our ducks flying through New York City and going through an unpredictable series of antics. What can I say? I had a blast with this movie. It’s actually a hilarious adventure that the whole family can enjoy. While it won’t be as commercially successful as Illumination’s other movie from this year (The Super Mario Bros Movie), this is a funnier, better-written film that tells its own story and has fun with the concept.
Believe it or not, Migration was written by Mike White. You may know White as the creator, writer, and director of HBO’s The White Lotus. Although White has writing credits on successful shows like this and the School of Rock movie, his prior animated movie writing credit was The Emoji Movie. Let’s just say that all is forgiven for The Emoji Movie because he really steps up to the plate with some hilarious comedy in this movie. It’s a well-paced, well-structured story that has its setups and payoffs.
Director and co-writer Benjamin Renner also brings so much hilarity to the way the characters are animated and directed. My favorite character in the movie is Gwen, the young, innocent, lovable daughter portrayed by Tresi Gazal. There’s a reason why she’s at the forefront of the film’s merchandising. Not only is she cute, but she’s hilarious in the film. There’s a moment earlier on in the film where she’s trying to protect her brother that I got the best kick out of. The gags in Migration are really smart, never relying on low-brow toilet humor the way other films do. Whenever the film does anything close to that, there is another layer of wit that allows it to be genuinely funny.
As for the cast, there is a lot of talent on display here. Nanjiani has always proved himself to be a funny actor in his movies, and he gets to shine as a voice actor here. His anxious character is so funny, and Elizabeth Banks complements him very well as his character’s wife. It’s apparent that the creators of this movie had the same idea as the creators of Jumanji: The Next Level. Similar to that film, we have Awkwafina and Danny DeVito in supporting roles. Awkwafina can be hit-or-miss for many, and I personally wasn’t a fan of her in this year’s The Little Mermaid. However, I liked how she threw on a thick New York accent for this role as the leader of a pigeon gang. She’s very good here, and I pray that she can carry that energy into her upcoming voice role in Kung Fu Panda 4.
DeVito is also funny as the family uncle. If you think about it, his character does not need to be in this movie at all. However, it seems as if they wanted to get Danny DeVito to do his Danny DeVito schtick. I’m not complaining because it means we get another wonderful performance from him. Another strong actor here is Keegan Michael-Key, who has been a booked and busy voice actor for the past two years in Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Pinocchio, Wendell & Wild, and The Super Mario Bros Movie. He even appeared in Wonka, another December movie this year. This movie sees him throw on a Jamaican accent and give a wonderfully energetic performance.
Renner directs Migration with so much vibrance and a strong sense of comedy. There is a good chunk of the movie that uses a balloon for multiple comedic purposes. It’s genuinely wonderful how funny this film is and how it manages to get you invested in the story, particularly towards the back half of the film. We have a lot of exciting moments, and even though this isn’t the most emotionally deep or groundbreaking animated film of the year (we have Spider-Verse for that), it really caught me off guard. Unlike some family films, I would watch this movie again in a heartbeat.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: ComingSoon attended a press screening for our Migration review.