William Lee is a graduate of UC Irvine and Chapman with degrees in Film Studies and Screenwriting. He has held a life-long passion for all things geeky including comics, film, toys, and video games. He was previously a Senior Reviewer for over a decade with Movie Metropolis (formerly DVD Town). Will is a regular of the convention scene in Southern California and has been attending cons since 1993. You can also find him on Facebook as William D. Lee Photography

It’s refreshing to see Illumination release a film that isn’t a sequel or based on an existing IP, even one that isn’t wholly original in terms of story and theme. The animation studio has made boatloads of money with the Despicable Me/Minions franchise and their last release was the highly anticipated Super Mario Bros. Movie, which finally brought us a faithful adaptation of the iconic Nintendo game.

Illumination’s newest picture, Migration, is based on an original screenplay by Mike White, creator of HBO’s award-winning drama The White Lotus, and directed by Benjamin Renner, who previously helmed the Oscar-nominated Ernest & Celestine

Mack Mallard (Kumail Nanjiani) is the overprotective patriarch of a tight-knit duck family that consists of strong-willed wife Pam (Elizabeth Banks), adventurous son Dax (Caspar Jennings) and precocious little daughter Gwen (Tresi Gazal). Mack is more than content to keep his flock in their little pond in the north east, far away from the dangers of the outside world. However, when another group of ducks stop by on their way to Jamaica for the winter, the feathered fam’s thirst for adventure is stirred and Mack reluctantly embarks on their first attempt at migration.

With their eccentric Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito) in tow, the Mallards are initially waylaid by a ghastly storm that forces them to seek shelter in a swamp with a creepy heron (Carol Kane) that either wants them to join her for dinner or be dinner. Their next stop turns out to be New York City where the ducks run afoul of a grumpy, one-footed pigeon named Chump (Awkwafina). After Pam mediates an interspecies alliance, Chump introduces the Mallards to Delroy (Keegan-Michael Key), a macaw locked in a cage by a celebrity chef. Delroy agrees to show the Mallards the way to his home island of Jamaica in exchange for his freedom.

The theme of the overprotective parent is a familiar one and has been used to great effect in Finding Nemo, The Croods, and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. Migration doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Even the come to Jesus moment where Mack allows Dax to save another flock of ducks bred for gourmet meals seems lifted directly from Finding Nemo. Everything builds to a happy ending where all the main characters dance to a catchy pop tune just like almost every animated film of the last couple decades.

The main antagonist is the tattooed chef with a braided beard that’s a combination of the crazed French cook from The Little Mermaid and internet sensation Salt Bae. The filmmakers wisely decided not to include human voices in the movie so the chef comes off as a grunting, knife-wielding terminator stalking our poor mallards.

The CG animation of Migration is a far cry from the watercolor aesthetics of Renner’s Ernest & Celestine. Once again, Migration doesn’t do much to distinguish itself as the art style looks like every other mainstream animated movie. That’s not to say there wasn’t any skill involved. There’s a beautiful nighttime shot of Times Square as the birds fly through the urban labyrinth of Manhattan. Another clever shot sees the Mallards emerge from the fog similar to the Gungans from The Phantom Menace, which in turn, was lifted directly from Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.

Video/Audio: 9
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The transfer is impeccable with the beautiful autumn colors standing out, along with the gleaming billboards of New York. Tiny details like the texture of the birds’ feathery bodies also shine through.

The audio is presented in Dolby Atmos. Dialogue is crisp and clear while the overall sound is fairly straightforward without too much of an immersive experience.

Extras: 5
The Blu-ray includes 3 short films:
Fly Hard (4:01) – Starring Chump as she deals with winter in the Big Apple
Mooned (8:40) – Following the villain Vector from Despicable Me as he’s trapped on the moon
Midnight Mission (4:52) – The Minions try to make the dark night less frightening for Agnes

Microphone Madness (3:11) features clips of the actors voicing their characters intercut with clips from the final film.

Meet the Cast (15:37) is composed of several shorter featurettes each focusing on a different actor and their respective character.

Taking Flight: The Making of (5:29) is a behind-the-scenes featurette bringing us through concept art, early animatics, and the final product.

The Art of Flight (1:58) focuses solely on the character designs of the birds and their movements.

How to Draw (10:33) presents Benjamin Renner as he gives us quick lessons about how to draw the main characters of the movie.

Build Your Own Pop-Up Book (11:07) is a neat lesson in arts and crafts about how to make lively pop-up books.

Calling All Birds (5:34) teaches you how to make various bird calls.

Bests Nests (5:47) teaches you how to make your very own bird’s nest and feeders using items from around the house.

Film Value: 6
Mike White drew critical acclaim for the family dysfunction displayed in The White Lotus and there’s a certain level of duck dysfunction here that’s palpable for family audiences. That’s where the similarities end. Migration is a perfectly adequate picture for the little ones, but is rather forgettable when compared to the best of Pixar, Dreamworks, or Illumination. The voice actors are well cast with the great Carol Kane being a standout, but the story itself is a derivative crossing of Finding Nemo and Rio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *