Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Benjamin Renner
scr Mike White
prd Chris Meledandri
voices Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Tresi Gazal, Caspar Jennings, Danny DeVito, Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key, Carol Kane, Isabela Merced, David Mitchell, Laraine Newman, Chris Renaud
release US 22.Dec.23,
UK 2.Feb.24
23/US Universal 1h23

nanjiani banks awkwafina

Is it streaming?

Uncle Dan, Gwen, Dax, Pam and Mack
A sparky script helps make this silly animated adventure more entertaining than expected, cleverly written by Mike White (The White Lotus) and voiced by a superbly eclectic cast. Director Benjamin Renner also adds enjoyably colourful touches in the design work, which is rendered with vivid textures and a nice sense of emotional engagement. So if the plot gets very stupid along the way, we don't mind too much.
Dad mallard Mack (Nanjiani) has convinced his son Dax (Jennings) and younger daughter Gwen (Gazal) that they're only in their pond. But mum Pam (Banks) longs for new scenery, especially when a passing flock chatters about wintering in Jamaica. So they take Uncle Dan (DeVito) and head south. In a swamp, they encounter a terrifying oddball heron (Kane), and later a scrappy Central Park pigeon (Awkwafina) and a caged red macaw (Key) longing for his Jamaican home. Freeing him puts them in the crosshairs of a vindictive chef who's determined to roast them for dinner.
While the thriller elements involving the chef are overblown and surprisingly violent, at least they remain cartoonish, played largely for wacky sight gags. Much more enjoyable is the banter between these likeable family members, as well as how they play with others. Each character is a bundle of witty quirks, pulling us into their odyssey. And the dialog is packed with a terrific mix of smart and goofy humour, creating an unusually strong sense of the relationships between these feathered friends and relatives.

Visually, the designs aren't particularly original, but they are beautifully crafted with a striking attention to detail in the characters and settings. Each of the environments is fascinating, from the pastoral pond to a creepy swamp, an outrageously bustling New York, a zen-like happy duck farm and an off-season coastal resort. And there's an explosion of music and rich hues when they make it to Jamaica. That's not a spoiler, but who they meet there might be.

Each scene plays out with a blast of energy that builds a strong momentum. But there isn't much going on under the surface, aside from a gentle reminder not to make decisions based on fear. More interesting is the dynamic between Mack and Pam, as she lets him be himself while quietly encouraging him to spread his wings, as it were. Their blossoming relationship is the script's nicest surprise, offering just a little something that both kids and grown-ups can take away without even a hint of preachiness.

cert u themes, violence 28.Feb.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall