Illumination Animation returns this holiday season with a new family adventure comedy, Migration. The film follows a family of ducks who decide to upend their lives at the pond they’ve always lived and migrate south for the winter for the first time ever. 

While dad Mack is content to keep his family safe paddling around their New England pond forever, mom Pam is eager to shake things up and show their kids—teen son Dax and duckling daughter Gwen—the whole wide world. After a migrating duck family alights on their pond with thrilling tales of far-flung places, Pam persuades Mack to embark on a family trip, via New York City, to tropical Jamaica. As the Mallards make their way South for the winter, their well-laid plans quickly go awry. The experience will inspire them to expand their horizons, open themselves up to new friends and accomplish more than they ever thought possible, while teaching them more about each other—and themselves—than they ever imagined.

The film comes from writer Mike White (The White Lotus, School of Rock). Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy direct.

Meet the Mallards

One thing Migration did extremely well? Assembling a great voice cast. Kumail Nanjiani and Elizabeth Banks are perfect as Mack and Pam, heads of the Mallard family. Nanjiani allows Mack to slip from over-stressed worrywart to witty asides, all with a healthy dose of overbearing parent. Banks balances him well as Pam, understanding and caring and able to take charge of any situation.

The youngest duckling, Gwen (Tresi Gazal), proves an absolute scene-stealer. She’s just so stinkin’ cute in every moment of this film. I would do anything for Gwen, and if you wouldn’t I’m not sure you have a heart.

Other great casting choices include Danny DeVito as the eccentric but endearing Uncle Dan and Awkwafina as a street-hardened New York City pigeon. Oh, and casting Carol Kane as a strange and vaguely threatening heron? Inspired. Clearly a lot of thought went into these characters and pairing them with the voice actors to bring them to life.

There’s just something missing from ‘Migration’

Unfortunately, outside of a solid voice cast and just how stinking cute Gwen is, Migration feels like it just doesn’t have that much to offer. Compared to other Illumination projects like Despicable Me, Sing, and even The Secret Life of Pets, this film falls flat. There are some funny moments, but genuine laughs seemed few and far inbetween. 

I wish Illumination had introduced us to these ducks and their adventures as a series of shorts, instead of as a feature film. There are a few individual scenes that are a lot of fun, but the moments stringing them all together into one story feel sort of bland. It comes across as entertaining ideas for bits, not something that needed to be a full length movie. “Cobbled together” is the best way I can describe Migration.

Similarly, the movie’s attempt to string everything together into one cohesive narrative felt forced. Thematically, the film is about being adventurous, facing your fears, and leaving your comfort zone – in other words, internal conflicts. Halfway through, Migration introduces a duck-cooking chef who then becomes an ongoing antagonist to the Mallard family, hunting them down. Like a lot of the characters in the movie, it felt like his presence was intended just for one scene; but then he kept appearing, and it felt like that conflict detracted from the more internal (and emotionally compelling) conflict the movie initially set up.

Overall, I found Migration a bit underwhelming. I really enjoyed the characters and some moments from the Mallard family’s adventures, but it just didn’t all come together as I would have hoped. 

In fairness, the kids in the audience when I saw the film did seem to enjoy it well enough. So, if you have little ones looking forward to this movie, it could still be worth a watch to them. It’s just not quite the cross-generational success you’d like to see debut around the holidays.

Migration premieres in theaters December 22.