'Migration' Review Roundup: standard feathery fun for kids

Universal's "Migration" opens in U.S. theaters today, and critics are giving the Illumination-produced film, the studio's first original concept film since 2016's "Sing," a passing grade. [Benjamin Renner, the French director known for small-scale 2D films like "Ernest and Celestine" and "The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales," is directing his first big-budget American film. Illumination veteran Gilo Homsy, who worked on the layout for "The Thing 2," joins him as co-director.

"Migration" follows the Mallard family, led by worried father Mac, as they expand their horizons and venture from the safety and security of their New England pond into the unknown.

Critics have been generally favorable, acknowledging that the film adheres to the well-known American animation formula, but that there is much to admire visually and narratively. Currently, 70% of critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are favorable. The true test of an Illumination film, however, is always the audience. The studio's previous film, "Super Mario Brothers Movie," grossed $1.36 billion and was loved by audiences, despite a lackluster response from critics.

"Migration" is not positioned as a tentpole; it was made on a relatively modest budget of $72 million and features a modest celebrity cast led by Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, and Danny DeVito. And despite being written by Mike White, creator of the HBO adult series "The White Lotus," "Migration" has little appeal to the big four, instead targeting the under-12 crowd.

The biggest competition during the vacations may be Netflix's "Leo," rather than current releases like "Wish" and "Trolls Band Together." Universal expects the film's opening weekend to be there, and hopes for steady showings over the holiday season and into the New Year as families look for wholesome entertainment to entertain their winter break school children.

Critics' comments on Illumination's latest film are representative:

Katie Walsh of The highlightedChicago Tribune highlighted the similarities between "White Lotus" and this film. This is the animus behind the hit HBO series "The White Lotus" and the primary theme of the new animated family film "Migration." An odd comparison, perhaps, but it all makes sense when you consider that both projects happen to be scripted by Mike White. He took this concept of the transformative power of travel from the award-winning Prestige TV series and transplanted it into an animated film for children.... Of course, there are lessons to be learned about travel and adventure, especially with partners. Mac realizes that Pam is tougher and smarter than he thought she was, and Pam is fascinated by Mac's bravery and stepping up as the leader of the family in the face of danger again and again. This coincides with the theme of "The White Lotus," which is set at the resort, and White's own cast member on the reality show "Survivor."

Fresh Fiction's Courtney Howard found much to admire in Illumination's latest:

"Migration" sounds no small amount familiar with respect to its theme and story, but by cleverly sneaking in a mundane and expected Migration" plays a few familiar notes with regard to its theme and story, but cleverly sneaks in a fresh twist on the mundane and predictable. (omission) Migration is the studio's most gorgeous work to date, recreating the warm autumn palette of foliage, the beautifully seductive glow of neon signs in a concrete jungle, and the sensation of flying through clouds like candy floss. The animators gave the birds a variety of expressions and created textured, three-dimensional backgrounds. Mood and tone are beautifully handled by John Powell's score and the color shifts in the cinematography.

Michael Ordonya of the Los Angeles Times said of Renner's film:

It is probably by French director Benjamin Renner. He has been making lovely animated feature films for the last decade or so, including the warm Oscar-nominated "Ernest and Celestine" (2012) and "Big Bad Fox and Other Tales," one of the most entertaining films of 2017. Those hand-drawn films have personal emotions that swing from smiles to embraces. Like a duck with water, Renner takes on a larger scale of filmmaking: the melange in "Migration" is familiar enough, but his material gives it a unique flavor. Migration" is by no means unique, but it is different enough. And in today's factory filmmaking, that is as unlikely as milking a duck.

Soren Andersen of the Seattle Times, on the other hand, felt that Renner leaned too heavily on the noise and frenetic school of American animated filmmaking. It's 3DCG from start to finish. And since he worked with a Hollywood screenwriter, it's no surprise that subtlety is nowhere to be found. Subtlety: ...... What's that...... Is it French or something else...... There is no such thing here.

Everything is big action. Colorful visuals. Oversized vocal performances. Keegan-Michael Key, the voice of the bright red, lively parrot, strains his vocal cords as the character, freed from his cage, performs dazzling acrobatic feats with a freedom-singing squeal.

And that's pretty much it in Migration. It's animation for the whole family. Eh. Let's check. I think it's mainly for kids ages 5 to 12. Older audiences may soon suffer from fidgeting.

Also, in one of the harsher negative reviews, Variety's Peter Debruge couldn't get past the formula and banality of the storytelling:

Migration is the only thing that makes the rest of the film, the tasteless, blobby-eyed birds Once we settle into the look of the picturesque backdrops inhabited by these tasteless, blubbery-eyed birds, it's clear what we're looking for.

From "Encanto" to the aforementioned "Chicken Run": From "Encanto" to the aforementioned "Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget," this has been a recurring theme in animation in the 21st century. Animation no longer aims to teach lessons to impressionable young viewers, preferring to reinforce the idea that we live in a world where those in power are wrong (or at least too conservative) and should really listen to their children. Migration tweaks that a bit, emphasizing that Mac should focus more on his wife's ideas. (A duck has a wife - this duck has a wife. And they may divorce in the future)