Director Benjamin Renner and writer Mike White preview their new animated film, starring Elizabeth Banks and Kumail Nanjiani.
Director Benjamin Renner had a very specific rule whenever it came to making his latest animated feature, Migration: No fart jokes.
It's something the animator and Oscar-nominated Ernest et Célestine filmmaker applies to his work in general. “I know that's the easy way for kids. You put [in] a fart, they will laugh. It happens, but I have this rule that I don't do that," Renner tells EW. "I try to do gags that will be enjoyable for the whole family, for everyone."
Turns out, the French director likes rules. He had one especially for Illumination chief Chris Meledandri: if things weren’t working out, he’d shoot it to him straight. Renner, who hails from the land of hand-drawn animation, was content to go back to what he calls "my own little things in France" (e.g. 2017's The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, 2008's A Mouse's Tale). He was initially surprised Meledandri wanted him for Migration at all, given Illumination’s penchant for 3D animation à la Minions and The Super Mario Bros. Movie. But, turns out, the two shared a vision for the action-packed comedy.
The film follows a loveable family of odd ducks (voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Tresi Gazal, and Caspar Jennings) who try to convince their overprotective father (Kumail Nanjiani) to go on the vacation of a lifetime. Danny DeVito, Awkwafina, Carol Kane, Keegan-Michael Key, and more round out the cast. Think Little Miss Sunshine, but make it ducks, Renner says. “That was a reference for us, this sort of family group working together. That's the kind of spirit that we wanted to pass along through the movie.”
Writer and White Lotus mastermind Mike White explains the film uses a “comedic fantasy landscape” to explore its central themes, which he describes as the “desire we all have to live this full life of being curious about the world, and having adventures and growth through exposure to new places and new people,” as well as the flip side of that, which is “anxiety and fear about the world.”
In other words, White adds, it’s not just a kids’ movie. “Compared to some other Illumination movies, I think it has a little bit more poetry maybe," he says. "There's some wistfulness and some more parental type of themes that I think transcend just a kids’ movie, but I think it still has a visual zaniness that kids respond to.”
That zaniness is also amplified by the vocal talents of its cast. Renner credits Banks with bringing a lot of ideas and “peppiness” to her character, while White likens Nanjiani’s delivery to a “Jack Lemmon quality," a "very everyday man" who has a "comic neurotic energy" about him.
But when it comes to who has that BDE (Big Duck Energy)? “Danny DeVito I think has some serious duck energy for days,” White says with a laugh. (Renner also confirms that DeVito would “come on stage, take the script, start reading the line once, and then [start] doing standup, just improvising on everything.”)
Migration was initially set to take flight in the summer, but now will be landing in theaters Dec. 22, a rather serendipitous move, according to White. “'There's no place like home' is a very basic theme, but it’s also the idea of 'a home is where your family is,'" the writer says. "Wherever you are, if you're out on an adventure or you're staying put where you live, it's really the people that you're spending it with that matters. I think that is such a holiday message.”
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