Migration (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy, written by Mike White and Benjamin Renner and starring Elizabeth Banks, Kumail Nanjiani, Awkwafina, Isabela Merced, Keegan Michael-Key, Carol Kane, Danny DeVito, David Mitchell, Jimmy Donaldson and Caspar Jennings.
There’s nothing wrong with Universal and Illumination’s new animated picture, Migration, that a good dose of plot development couldn’t fix. All the elements of the picture work together to create an often funny movie. The characters seem to be well-conceived and the locations are great, but the movie is so slim in terms of substance, that it’s hard to know how the studio can justify its existence as a full-length feature. This would have been a splendid forty-five minute short film, but expanded to feature length, it relies on a lot of lame one-liners and one too many obscure plot revelations. Still, the casting is inspired in many respects and there is some genuine fun to be had here despite the movie’s flaws.
Danny DeVito, a screen legend, does the voice of the movie’s most memorable mallard character, Uncle Dan. With his expressive eyebrows, it’s hard not to see DeVito, the actor, in the animated character of Dan who often gets himself into mischief. One funny scene comes when Mack (voice of Kumail Nanjiani) says to his family that it’s OK to let Uncle Dan “go” and that Dan wouldn’t have wanted his family to go and rescue him in a dangerous situation.
It turns out that Mack, his wife, Pam (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) and their kids (voiced by Caspar Jennings and Tresi Gazal) want a new start and are looking to head to Jamaica (not Queens, even though the movie has scenes set in New York City). Mack prefers to stay in his original habitat at first, but majority rules and the family of mallards end up flying towards a new life.
Carol Kane, another screen veteran, does the offbeat voice of Erin who may or may not be up to no good early in the movie as she helps our feathered friends take shelter from a storm. One will be suspicious of Erin but the movie never really delivers on a great outcome with the Erin character. Kane voices Erin perfectly with her usual quirky style but the opportunity is lost to really run with the character and make it as pivotal to the action as it could have been. I’m not saying you had to get too “scary” with the material to make it better, but if they’re going to propose a potential premise, the filmmakers could have run with it a bit more.
This film really starts to get exciting when a parrot named Delroy (Keegan Michael-Key) needs to be rescued. Then, Mack swallows a key and everyone must help to get the key out of him to open the cage Delroy is in. You see, danger lurks around the premises with a certain Chef, and rescuing Delroy is imperative to the family’s mission to successfully migrate.
One hilarious scene has our leading feathered couple dancing at a restaurant/club in order to avoid being stomped on by female humans with high heel shoes played to a song with the lyrics, “I’m a survivor.” That’s a clever sequence and one of the better ones in the picture. It’s delightful to see our birds moving and grooving on the dance floor, for sure, but it doesn’t advance the plot all that much.
Directors Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy set some fun parts of the film in New York but these scenes, pardon the pun, “fly by” rather quickly. On the other hand, the character of Gwen, the daughter, is cute beyond a reasonable doubt. However, some of the movie just seems to skate by on one too many moments of cuteness and not enough script rewrites. In a year of tremendous animated films, moviegoers have come to expect more than what Migration ultimately delivers to its audience.
Banks is in fine form as the voice of Pam who has all the answers to her significant other’s wishes to stay put and not move towards a better life. Banks keeps the sarcasm evident and shines throughout. Nanjiani plays Mack as a goofball and it is simply inspired vocal work for the actor who keeps surprising in each role he plays. Isabela Merced, a famous young actress who starred as “Dora the Explorer” in another movie, plays Kim who has a fondness for Jamaica herself and keeps the young son of the central pair of birds motivated. Merced also stands out with some very distinct voice-over work that has its charms.
Look, Migration is harmless fun. If it came in the summer time, it would be light as air, passable entertainment. There have been some great animated films this year and Migration suffers in comparison to them, for several reasons. There are too many scenes that don’t really advance the plot forward. They exist mostly for comic relief and it’s a kid’s movie so what do you expect? On the plus side, Awkwafina can do no wrong and steals the movie occasionally as a pigeon called Chump who chimes in on the action.
Migration, in the final analysis, is a truly endearing movie that needed a stronger plot to enhance the overall quality of it. It goes down easy enough but when you look at what other animated movies have done this year (even the wildly energetic Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget), you’ll see that there was a lot more potential for Migration (even with its brief running time) than was actually fulfilled. It’s a close call for me but I’m only recommending this if you like animated comedies because the funny scenes drive the film in place of a more story-driven plot.
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