‘Migration’ Team Invites Viewers to Soar with Impressive Mallards


The reason for the scarcity of human characters in Universal and Illumination’s latest holiday film, Migration, lies in its unique perspective on the world. The movie follows the adventures of a nuclear duck family that ventures beyond the safety of its home pond to explore the larger world. Director Benjamin Renner, co-writer Mike White, and the team wanted to portray humans as ducks might perceive them, treating them as animals in the film, with only the birds understanding each other.

Renner, known for his Oscar-nominated film Ernest & Celestine, initially hesitated to transition from small, hand-drawn animation to a major CGI production. However, Illumination’s Chris Meledandri convinced him to take on the challenge. Renner, though uncertain, eventually became the director, bringing a fresh perspective to the studio’s Paris-based animation team.

Migration tells the story of the Mallard family, led by Kumail Nanjiani as Mack and Elizabeth Banks as Pam, who embark on their first migration. The family’s differing philosophies create comedic situations, with Mack favoring safety and Pam desiring to expose their children to the real world. The journey takes them through various locations, including a foreboding Southern bayou and bustling Manhattan, adding humor and challenges along the way.


Renner collaborated with co-director Guylo Homsy, an Illumination veteran, to bring the storyboards to life. The film’s vibrant color palettes were inspired by nature, with special attention to realistic colors rather than heightened palettes seen in previous Illumination films.

The production designer, Colin Stimpson, incorporated inspirations from real-world settings, such as New York in autumn and the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. The team avoided caricatures in depicting Jamaica and drew inspiration from German Expressionistic film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for a darker sequence featuring herons.

Recording during the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges, leading to remote sessions with the star-studded voice cast. The characters’ expressive eyes, a distinctive feature, conveyed emotions with subtle precision.


Despite the initial skepticism about the characters’ large, expressive eyes, the design choice seamlessly merged cartoony characters into realistic environments. Stimpson emphasized simplifying backgrounds to avoid overpowering the characters and using a narrow depth of field to maintain focus.

Migration boasts a classic Hollywood-style score by John Powell and is set to premiere on December 22. As for plans for a sequel, Renner is open to the idea but emphasizes the need for a passionate story to drive another five years of work.

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