‘Migration’ Director Renner Talks Duck Tales, Togetherness

‘Migration’ Director Renner Talks Duck Tales, Togetherness December 18, 2023

The new animated Universal Pictures release “Migration,” directed by Benjamin Renner, stars Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Caspar Jennings, Tresi Gazal, Awkwafina, Carol Kane, and Danny DeVito, centers on a family of ducks who contemplate migrating for the winter. Dad Mack is content to keep his family safe paddling in their New England pond while mom Pam is eager to discover the world. When she convinces Mack to join other birds heading south, an unforgettable adventure ensues.

‘Migration’ image courtesy of Universal Studios.

Director Renner, the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker of “Ernest & Celestine” and “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” recently spoke to Reel Faith’s DeWayne Hamby about helming his first big-budget animated film, how things were different and similar to the short films he’s created, and how it feels to create art that brings families together.


I like the themes of this movie, the family togetherness, the connection. And this was a pretty big splash for you. What was it that really appealed to you about this story?

To be honest, I used to work on features that were more like very small, hand drawn animation and everything. And when I was reached out by Chris Meledandri, the founder Illumination, I was a bit nervous to work with him. Because I never, I’ve never done like 3D, I had never done like this big scale Hollywood movie. And I was a bit afraid and confused why he wanted to meet me. I was sort of like, “Well, this must be a misunderstanding, I don’t really understand.” But I’m polite, I’m going to meet him and everything. And I went there. And he started pitching me a project that I really connected with, because he told me about the story. He read an article about ducks and how they stopped. Some of them stopped migrating because some winters can be a little bit warmer for them. So, they decided to stay home. And he talked about how he related to those ducks who chose to stop challenging life, doing those dangerous migration and stay home. And he related as a human of saying, “I’m going to stay in my comfort zone.” Getting stuck into your routine and, and how that can become a problem. Also, as a couple as you’re growing up. it can be an issue. And I kind of loved this idea. I felt there’s something very relatable in that. When he was telling me about the speech, he told me a lot about himself. And I started like talking about myself as well, you know, like, my relationship with my girlfriend, and him with his wife and everything. We talked about oval things and, and I felt okay, it’s a heavy subject, of course, but we can treat it in a very lighthearted way. So, there’s a way to make this very funny and comedic, but we will at least have a solid, like very strong theme that’s going to be the basis for a movie. So, that’s something to build on that. We started working together, and it turns out that we really had fun talking about this idea. That’s how everything started.


What were the things you noticed most going from smaller independent shorts to a big animated Illumination film?

It was a huge challenge the way we had bigger budgets, we can make the film, but keep writing it as we’re doing the movie. Whereas in France, I’m more used to a process where you write the story, you do the storyboard, and then you just make it. This is very different in the sense that we animate a lot of things, but we still can think, “Okay, let’s change that.” So it’s really weird because you’re trying to write a story or build a story. But you know, like, things can change all the time. You always have to be ready to think this might change so maybe let’s be careful. If I attend to this, I need to make sure that I’m going to change that as well. That was one of the biggest challenges for me, making sure that I’m being very focused on making this film cohesive and, and keep the community of it and everything. But other than that, the movie was made, a lot of the movie was made in a studio in France, so there was a lot of French artists. So, for me, it was not feeling so different. I was surrounded with grumpy people, which is my everyday life. We made it the same way we did over other movies. We were very excited. The difference was also the fact that I was doing 3D For the first time, where I’m more used to hand drawn animation. So, it was new to me this way of doing movies, but when it’s more about, like, the story, the biggest challenge is making sure you understand what you want to tell the audience. It can feel like it’s obvious, and it’s actually not. When you’re telling a story, you have to make sure you get that right. And then the challenge is how you express it so that your viewers will feel emotional about it.


As a director, you’re making movies that would kind of bring families together, and they’re entertaining, but they have a good lesson. How does that feel?

They are something that I myself love to watch. It’s so relaxing. Of course, I love to watch every kind of movie, but people tend to think that the feel-good movie is something you do that you won’t put effort into it. And it’s actually a very tricky thing to do to make it right. I always keep saying that I don’t want to make lazy gags, lazy jokes for kids, like fart jokes. I just want to make sure that we’re really into it and everything. So, when we worked on this project, we were taking this very seriously so that the audience we were giving them an emotion that’s really pleasant. That’s what I want to share with the audience, like an emotion of laughter and being moved sometimes, something very lighthearted that family can connect with, and the whole family can share afterwards. They can talk about it. They can think, “Oh, this is me, or this is you.” So, yeah, that was the sort of goal that we had. And it’s hard for me to tell if we achieved it, but at least we tried really hard. We really sincerely made this movie and I’m happy to see that some at least some of the some of the kids and parents that I met were really happy and told me that it’s all connected them together. And I love this feeling.


“Migration,” directed by Benjamin Renner, releases from Universal Pictures on Friday, December 22.

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