With the holiday season coming to an end, I can only talk about what “made” a movie like “Migration” a relative hit, as opposed to talking about its future. And that reason is that it was a “compromise” movie for families looking for a way to kill time together during the holiday break. “Wonka,” while the biggest hit of the season, came out two weeks ago, so “Migration” probably gobbled up some business from families that had already seen it. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” didn’t appeal to non-DCEU fans (and was terrible to boot). “The Color Purple” is better than all these movies (seriously, I highly recommend that one), but with its heavy subject matter, isn’t exactly fun for the whole family. The compromise was to take the kids to the animated duck movie.
The Mallard family make their home in a small rural pond. Father Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) teaches son Dax (Caspar Jennings) and daughter Gwen (Tresi Gazal) to fear the dangers of the outside world, but mother Pam (Elizabeth Banks) is pretty sure they can handle some adventure if they stick together. Her attitude rubs off on the kids, and they want to migrate to Jamaica for the winter, but Mack forbids it. He’s backed up by lazy slob Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito), who leads a sedentary, washed-out life. Uncle Dan’s bad example is enough to convince Mack that the family needs a vacation after all.
Mack reluctantly leads the family (including Uncle Dan) toward Jamaica, but they soon get stuck in a miserable rainstorm. Pam tries to play the “it’s all part of the adventure” and “we’ll laugh about this later” cards, as parents tend to do when things go wrong on vacation, but it’s clear things are off to a bad start. Things get even worse when a heron (Carol Kane) offers the family refuge in her home, and they have to spend the night in the home of a frightening predator. It turns out that the real predator is a fish that has swam into the flooded house, but it’s an unnerving experience all the same.
The family gets “lost” and ends up in New York City (though I have no idea where they started, so NYC could be south for all I know), where they befriend local streetwise pigeon Chump (Awkwafina). She makes the inevitable joke confusing Jamaica the country with the Queens neighborhood once and then leaves it alone, which was a relief to me – I thought the characters would spend about an hour making that mistake.
Chump takes them to imprisoned macaw Delroy (Keegan-Michael Key), who can give them directions to Jamaica, but they decide they can’t just leave him in his cage, they need to break him out so he can take them there himself. This angers his mute owner, who happens to be a chef that specializes in cooking ducks. The family spends the rest of the movie battling the chef, who has his own private helicopter so they can have a confrontation later at a duck farm (disguised an avian-friendly vacation resort for some reason, even though this isn’t “Wonka” and humans don’t need to con the ducks) and then further down the coast in the third act.
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“Migration” isn’t a particularly imaginative family film. It’s certainly cute and harmless enough that I don’t think anybody will truly detest it, even if they’re well outside the target audience. But it’s not the kind that I think parents will enjoy as much as their kids – save for the completely-plausible possibility that the kids find it dull too.
“Migration” is rated PG for action/peril and mild rude humor. Its running time is 83 minutes, plus nine for the pre-feature animated short “Mooned,” which follows villain Vector (Jason Segel) after the events of 2010’s “Despicable Me.” I didn’t find the short funny, but I’m glad the franchise is keeping the character alive, as I thought he was funny in the first movie and would like to see him return for future installments.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.