I must admit, before watching this movie, I was not very familiar with mooncakes and the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e. Luckily Netflix’s Over The Moon gives us a beautiful introduction to both the treat and the folktale in the opening moments of the movie.
The film starts with a young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) hearing the story of Chang’e from her parents and learning to make mooncakes at their bakery. As time moves forward, we see Fei Fei’s mother grow sicker and sicker with an unknown illness. The film then jumps to four years later, Fei Fei’s mother has passed away, and Fei Fei’s sad but peaceful world begins to change. Her father (John Cho) begins dating Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), whose son Chin (Robert G. Chiu) tells Fei Fei he will soon be her brother, Fei Fei sets out on a mission to prove the moon goddess Chang’e is real. She thinks that if her father believes in the moon goddess again, it will remind him of Fei Fei’s mother and he will not remarry.
Her mission to the moon begins with an amusing sequence that serves as a love letter to girls in STEM. Though you cannot ignore a level of fantasy overlaying Fei Fei successfully building a rocketship by herself, the film still showcases the frustrations and successes of the scientific method. Fei Fei is at the top of her class, and the film celebrates that fact.
When Fei Fei makes it to the moon, we enter the candy-colored world of Lunaria. With Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), we do not get a traditional Chinese goddess, we get Lady Gaga. This includes a platform stiletto’ed musical performance to a song called “Ultraluminary”. This is the first of four songs featuring Soo and one of nine songs showcased in the film. While Over The Moon showcased plentiful musical numbers – perhaps too many – the songs are mostly good. They could have skipped the rap, though.
The film’s scenes based in China are gorgeous and feature seemingly well-researched attention to detail. The moments on the moon are more fantastical, but not nearly as magical. With a Pixar-ish aesthetic and little gumdrop styled inhabitants with no personalities, the moon doesn’t provide anywhere close to the same level of warmth (no pun intended) you feel when back in China. Gobi (Ken Jeong), Fei Fei’s long-tongued, gelatinous sidekick on Lunaria, seems created only to amuse the kids watching at home. His shtick quickly turns annoying and over the top. We already have Chin for the slapstick comedy moments, making Gobi an unnecessary addition to the story.
The film shares a warm familiarity with Abominable, which makes sense both were produced by Pearl Studios. Each film features themes of parental loss, with a young girl leaving on a hero’s journey that eventually helps her to process her grief. In the case of Over The Moon, the story becomes even more poignant when learning that screenwriter Audrey Wells wrote the film knowing she had cancer and she passed away during the production.
Legendary animator Glen Keane gives us a solid first effort with Over The Moon, his directorial debut. It borrows heavily from films like The Wizard of Oz. Unlike its inspiration, however, Over The Moon shines brighter when everyone is at home in China. When it travels to Luminaria, it’s own version of Oz, things get a little too ambitious and fall – slightly – off the rails. Luckily the beautiful animation, talented voice cast, and heartfelt storytelling offer enough redemption to get this movie back on track.
Over The Moon is streaming on Netflix beginning October 23, 2020.
About Over The Moon
Rating: PG (Mild Action|Some Thematic Elements)
Runtime: 1h 35m
Fueled with determination and a passion for science, a bright young girl builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of a legendary Moon Goddess. There she ends up on an unexpected quest, and discovers a whimsical land of fantastical creatures. Directed by animation legend Glen Keane, and produced by Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou, Over the Moon is an exhilarating musical adventure about moving forward, embracing the unexpected, and the power of imagination. The film stars Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Ruthie Ann Miles, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu, Margaret Cho, and Kimiko Glenn.