Producer: Chris Meledandri Directors: Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy Screenplay: Mike White Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key, David Mitchell, Carol Kane, Caspar Jennings, Tresi Gazal, Boris Rehlinger and Danny DeVito Distributor: Universal
Periodically the birds in “Migration” take wing, whooping and hollering in joy. Their exuberance is obviously intended to extend to members of the audience. But the ploy doesn’t work because although the new film from Illumination Entertainment is visually attractive, its drab characters, thin storyline, bland dialogue and pedestrian direction leave it earthbound, and viewers of whatever age are unlikely to share the thrill the movie’s heroes are enjoying.
The central characters are a family of Mallard ducks living in a secluded pond somewhere in New England—daddy Mack (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), mom Pam (Elizabeth Banks), adolescent son Dax (Casper Jennings) and young daughter Gwen (Tresi Gazal). Dax is a restless kid anxious for adventure, but Mack is a worrier terrified of venturing beyond the safety of home. So when a flock of ducks arrives on their way south and invites the Mallard clan to join them on the trip to Jamaica, Dax is enthusiastic—especially since one of the visitors is a cute girl. After the flock departs, Dax and Pam persuade the reluctant Mack that they should go to Jamaica too, but he insists they do so on their own—only the four of them and his irascible uncle Dan (Danny DeVito).
Their journey is a succession of episodes, none especially memorable. The first, and best, comes after they’re caught in a storm and wind up shivering in a swamp, where they’re invited for the night into the descript shack of equally decrepit heron Erin (Carol Kane). Since herons are always the ravenous villains in the bedtime stories Mack told the kids to terrify them into not leaving the family pond, they’re not certain whether she’s really offering them shelter for the night, or planning to serve them up as dinner for her and her even more decrepit husband. This is a nicely creepy interlude, especially after she provides them with a frying pan for a bed, but writer Mike White can’t come up with a proper ending for it, and it just peters out.
Next the ducks find themselves in New York, a frightening new environment, where Uncle Dan falls afoul (or it is afowl?) of a herd of pigeons in Central Park headed by Chump (Awkwafina), a pugnacious little critter with whom they eventually reach an accommodation over available food scraps. When they ask for directions to Jamaica, she obliges by introducing them to Delroy (Keegan-Michael Key), a bright red parrot from the island. Unfortunately he’s despondent, caged in the attic of a popular restaurant where sinister Chef (Boris Rehlinger) specializes in duck à l’orange. A protracted battle to free Delroy follows, and then the group, with Delroy a new addition, resumes the trip.
The next stop is a farm where a bunch of ducks are being taught techniques of eastern meditation by their yoga master Googoo (David Mitchell). But the place turns out to be part of the supply chain for the evil Chef, who arrives to cart the birds away. When the Mallards prevent their being loaded on a truck, Chef takes to the skies in a huge helicopter to retrieve them. During the battle that follows, Dax shows his courage and gains some new feathers—as well as his father’s respect.
They finally proceed to Jamaica, where they’re reunited with the flock they met back at their pond. It turns out to be the paradise they expected, and Mack has learned he doesn’t necessarily know best.
“Migration” boasts attractive animation—the production designer was Colin Stimpson and Alex Angelis the senior animator—and the voice work is enthusiastic, while John Powell provides an upbeat score and editor Christian Gazal has brought it in at well under ninety minutes (not counting the long closing credits). But its message about fathers heeding their kids will doubtlessly appeal more to the youngsters in the audience than the parents accompanying them, and more generally it has a rote, formulaic feel that relegates it to the lower ranks of animated family fare.
Preceding “Migration” in theatres is a new short called “Mooned,” in which Vector (voiced by Jason Segel), the Jerry Lewis-like villain of the original “Despicable Me,” is marooned on the lunar surface with one of the Minions. (The movie’s plot, you may remember, involved a scheme to steal the moon, and at the end Vector was stranded on it, so you can consider the short a sequel of sorts.) It’s basically a clone of the brilliant old Warner Bros. Road Runner cartoons, with screechy Vector a Wile E. Coyote type trying complicated ways of getting back to earth. But it boasts little of their style and wit, and doesn’t redeem the feature that follows it.