A review of 'Migration' disguised as a how-to guide for movie reviews (or vice versa)
How do you review a movie?
Let’s take, as an example, the movie Migration. The purpose of a review is to give the reader an idea of what the movie is like, and whether or not they might want to spend the time and money to watch it. The basic facts of the movie should be listed; so, in this example, Migration is a computer animated movie from Illumination (The Secret Life of Pets, Sing), directed by Benjamin Renner (Ernest & Celestine, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales). I included examples of the creator's previous work that might give my audience some idea of what to expect. However, this can easily be found on free sources like IMDB or Wikipedia, and a review is not just a recitation of facts.
A brief plot synopsis is usually a good idea. In Migration’s case, the story is about a family of ducks (Kumail Nanjiani as father Mack, Elizabeth Banks as mother Pam, Caspar Jennings as son Dax, Tresi Gazal as daughter Gwen and Danny Devito as uncle Dan) who decide to migrate from their tiny pond to Jamaica. It plays like a road trip comedy, but with ducks. Along the way, they have adventures with a decrepit heron (voiced by Carol Kane) and her mute husband, a one-legged pigeon (voiced by Awkwafina), a caged parrot (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and a cult-like group of farm ducks, while being chased by a chef who specializes in duck à l'orange.
Once we have details of what Migration the movie is, we can move on to the reviewer's opinion.
It is important to note what a review isn’t as much as what it is. For instance, a review is not a critique. It is not for the filmmakers, giving them advice on how to make a better movie next time. It would be silly to think one individual reviewer would have that kind of power in general, and one from a small furry outlet specifically. Maybe in aggregate, like on Rotten Tomatoes, critics can throw some weight around, but even then the “percentages” and “Critics’ Consensus” are still more help to an audience looking to watch the movie than the filmmakers. A critic should remember who they’re writing for.
In a similar manner, when writing a review, a critic may also want to point out what the movie being reviewed isn’t. In Migration’s case, it’s primarily a family comedy and so not an overly complicated or risk-taking movie. Once again, a critic should know their primary audience, and mine is adult furry fans. It might be advisable to bring in some outside context: Illumination’s head has said that they don’t have a strong "name recognition" as of yet – but I feel that’s not really true. Illumination, of all the main American animation studios, seems the most comfortable just making kids movies. It may not always be advisable to bring up past reviews, but in my review of Illumination's Sing 2, I said the movie was fine or even above average as safe “family” entertainment; my problem was that it explicitly was not content with this idea, seeming over-insistent that it was "more", despite not actually offering it. Migration also doesn’t offer much more, but at least seems happy being what it is; fine - even above average - safe “family” entertainment.
Well, that’s the main point of the review, if I’ve done my job well. Now might be a good time to round up a few points, either in the movie’s favor or against it, that didn’t fit in before. For instance, Migration’s animation is quite good, with pretty backgrounds that use color in a painterly way, without resorting to the in-vogue tactic of actually making the CGI look like brushstrokes. Occasional experiments with form and content can be fun, but should be used sparingly. The character designs are appealing when they’re supposed to be, and very ugly when they’re not, so the herons, villainous chef and Awkwafina-voiced pigeon are not pretty.
Some audience reaction reportage is appropriate; I had a later screening with older audience members. There was not exactly stony silence, but there was more polite chuckles than out and out laughter for a comedy. The only scene where an audience laughed very loudly was a scene where the pigeon has trouble avoiding traffic. (In this regard, the movie did better than the short subject it was paired, the Despicable Me spin-off "Mooned", which garnered no notable reaction whatsoever.)
To finish, it may be necessary to reiterate and expand on the final verdict. In Migration’s case, I feel it’s an okay movie; worth seeing at some point, especially for bird fans, but not a must-see, either. Some believe you should end on a strong statement; but sometimes, I find, it’s best just to end it.