LOS ANGELES – Why do so many top Hollywood actors love doing voice work for animation?
The cast of Migration, an animated comedy opening in Singapore cinemas on Dec 28, offers some reasons.
The movie follows the Mallards, a family of wild ducks, as they go on an epic adventure after deciding to migrate from New England to Jamaica.
And it features the voices of comedy stars such as Kumail Nanjiani as Mack Mallard, the anxious father duck who would prefer the family stayed home, and Elizabeth Banks as his more adventurous wife Pam.
Awkwafina voices Chump, the scrappy pigeon the Mallards encounter in New York, and Keegan-Michael Key is her homesick Jamaican parrot friend Delroy.
At a recent screening of Migration in Los Angeles, the actors explain why they each signed on to this family-friendly film, a story about overcoming fears and broadening one’s horizons.
Awkwafina, the 35-year-old star of superhero film Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021) and romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018), instantly related to her character – “a pigeon with attitude” – as a fellow New Yorker.
The American actress loves lending her voice to animation too, as she did for the fantasy films Raya And The Last Dragon (2021) and The Little Mermaid (2023).
“I like voice work because you literally don’t have to wear anything. You just come in with, like, one Croc on and you’re good,” jokes the comedienne.
The animators Illumination – the studio behind hits such as The Super Mario Bros Movie (2023) and the Despicable Me franchise (2010 to 2022) – also managed to weave some aspects of the actors’ appearances and personalities into the characters.
“The animation is insane. The pigeon has my eyelashes. The way they work you into the character is always really cool,” Awkwafina says.
“And when I heard about this story, I thought it was beautiful. It’s this really cool metaphor and I love that there’s a family aspect and they have different stops along the way.”
Nanjiani, 45, also appreciates the fact that Migration is something the whole family can watch together.
“So many of the other movies coming out aren’t for everyone. Sometimes, something awkward happens on-screen and you have to avoid your parents’ eyes all day,” says the Pakistan-born American actor, who starred in and received a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for the romantic comedy The Big Sick (2017).
“Not in this movie. Grown-ups will connect with it, too, because it’s really about family and it looks absolutely gorgeous,” adds the star, who also appeared in the superhero film Eternals (2021).
Nanjiani says he has a soft spot for voice work, which he did on the animated series Adventure Time (2010 to 2018).
“It’s very different from acting on-screen because you can really change your performance months later. The movie keeps adjusting and your performance keeps adjusting.”
With live action, this would be much harder, if not impossible. “A couple of weeks later, you wish you could go back and change it, but you can’t.
“With this, you can, and you discover your character over months. You always have the freedom to go back and adjust something.
“So for an overthinker like me, it’s paradise,” Nanjiani says.
Banks, the 49-year-old American actress who voiced female protagonist Lucy/Wyldstyle in The Lego Movie films (2014 to 2019), adds: “I just loved the idea for this: this family with an overprotective dad and a mum who wants more out of life.”
The movie is also about “what we pass on to our kids – what are we telling our kids about the world around them, and whether they should be afraid of it or embrace it”.
Migration opens in cinemas on Dec 28.
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