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Migration Film: Rewards for Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Director Benjamin Renner is a French animator and filmmaker. His latest film, Migration, stars the voice talent of Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key, David Mitchell, Carol Kane, Caspar Jennings, Tresi Gazal and Danny DeVito, and it will open in theaters at Christmas time.

This family-friendly film is rated PG, and we screened the film and had a chance to speak with the Director, hearing his unique perspective and ideas for the film.

Benjamin Renner director of  - Migration - Illumination Studio in Paris. Photo credit: Olivier Borde
Benjamin Renner, director of Migration – Illumination Studio in Paris. Photo credit: Olivier Borde

The Story of Migration

Migration is the story of a family of ducks that migrate from their pond for the very first time. The father duck has been reluctant to migrate because he has created a nice little life for himself and his family in their little pond. Quite frankly, he’s terrified of the world outside their pond, and he doesn’t want to take any chances.

Mama duck, on the other hand, is not satisfied with this small life in the pond. She is more willing to try new things and she convinces dad that they should migrate as a family this year.

So the story follows this family of ducks, Mom, Dad, their two children, and their kooky Uncle as they leave the pond and head out on a migration to Jamaica. Of course, there are adventures and challenges on their journey, and they all learn important lessons as they make the migration.

the Duck Family at home near their pond
In the safety of the Before Times: the Duck Family at home near their pond – (from left) Pam (Elizabeth Banks), Dax (Caspar Jennings), Gwen (Tresi Gazal) and Mack (Kumail Nanjiani) in Illumination’s Migration, directed by Benjamin Renner.

Animation Style of Migration

Animation is a very forgiving art form and allows the film makers to create any kind of world they want. So one of their jobs is to decide what that world is like and what rules there are for that world.

But they also have to tell a story that the audience can relate to. According to the Director, there was a basic problem to solve about the Ducks.

“You have to find a way to make Ducks feel like Humans, but at the same time feel like Ducks. You know, ducks – and birds in general – they don’t have eyes on the front of their heads, they have eyes on the sides of their heads, and they look at you from the side. And that makes it hard when you’re trying to humanize them.”

He went on to say, “we had to find the graphic elements that would do this, and that was one of the challenges for us as filmmakers – to try and find the balance between those aspects in order to tell the story.”

Part of the charm of the film is the many other ways the filmmakers chose to humanize the ducks, like in the way they talk to each other, or even in the seemingly magical ways these ducks get to fly. While it may not be human behavior, it gives us something to delight in.

Duck Family have landed in New York City
The Duck Family have landed in New York City, and they’re all freaking out a little bit, which you can see in their eyes and body language.

How the Animation Tells the Story

Every director of an animated movie (or of any movie, really) must decide what the film is about and how they want to tell the story to their audience. This movie is about a journey of the spirit as well as a literal journey from the pond to Jamaica.

Director Renner had a lot to say about this:

“This movie is a road trip, basically, with ducks going on a migration. The narrative concept is that there’s a Father and Mother, and the Father wants to stay Home, and the Mother thinks that life should be about Challenge, and getting out of your comfort zone.”

He went on to say, “so we wanted the beauty and the artistry of the film (like the backgrounds and scenery), to reflect the fact that you’re going to be rewarded for getting out of your comfort zone, that you’re going to be amazed by the world you’re going to see.”

“Of course it’s not just going to be pure beauty that you’re going to see,” he said.

It’s like: any time you see beautiful scenery, like when you’re on a hike, it makes all the work worthwhile – all the work to get out of the house and get to the trail!

Renner said, “so we really wanted the artistry of the movie to reflect this idea – yes, it’s a naturalistic world, from the point of view of ducks – but it’s going to be something that’s grand and emotional, too.”

beautiful vista on the duck family migration
This beautiful vista was only available to the Duck family as they began their migration journey, and it’s spectacular. But they would never have seen it if they had never left the pond.

French Animation for American Audiences

Director Benjamin Renner has made several films in French, with one you may have heard of called Ernest and Celestine, which was nominated for Academy Award.

So we asked him for recommendations of other French animated films that you might like to watch and he had this to say:

“Oh, for a French movie (for American families) to see – I would definitely recommend, and it’s a little weird, but there’s a film called The King and The Bird, which is one of my favorites. It’s a very old movie, but so emotional. It’s a poem made into an animated film. It’s really, really beautiful.”

We hope you get a chance to screen some of these French animated movies at home or find them at an animation Film Festival, and we hope you enjoy them if you do!

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