Synopsis – In this animated musical, a girl builds a rocket ship and blasts off, hoping to meet a mythical moon goddess.
My Take – In my opinion, no valid argument can be made around the fact that Disney and Pixar rule the animation roster. While other studios have tried to replicate the same magic, the results have been mostly varying. From the get go, Netflix‘s animation division seems quite aware of the fact, hence for their third animation feature (following Klaus and The Willoughbys), which they co-produced with Pearl Studio (Abominable), they have onboard longtime Disney animator Glen Keane, making his directorial debut, to create the most Disney inspired non-Disney film ever.
Luckily for them, the end results are quite inspiring, and tear jerking. Yes, while the film seems heavily inspired from 2017’s Coco, this charming Chinese inspired animation manages to do well for itself, mainly in thanks to its fantastic visuals, likable characters, a dynamic musical score, and a story that strikes the right emotional chords about a child dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Sure, some of the comic relief feels unnecessary and the backdrop gets too color filled to get some skeptical adults on board, however, it is appreciable to see how director Glen Keane remains adamant in turning the film into a broad, yet culturally specific crowd pleaser, that will be remembered for being a solidly entertaining tale of family, interstellar travel, and Chinese mythology.
The story follows Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang), who as a small child used to wholeheartedly listen to her Ma Ma (voiced by Ruthie Ann Miles) and Ba Ba (voiced by John Cho) tell her the story of Chang’e (voiced by Phillipa Soo), an immortal woman who lives a lonely life on the moon, having left her mortal lover Houyi (voiced by Conrad Ricamora) behind on Earth millennia ago.
Now years later, following the death of Ma Ma, Fei Fei has taken her place in helping her father in running their mooncakes bakery, while still reeling with her loss internally. However, Fei Fei is astonished when her Ba Ba introduces her to Mrs. Zhong (voiced by Sandra Oh), whom he intends to marry, and Chin (voiced by Robert G. Chiu), her rambunctious kid, who is excited to become her younger brother.
Hurt and angry by the idea of her mother’s memory being eclipsed, Fei Fei pours out her frustrations into build a rocket to the moon, in order to prove to her mocking extended family the truth behind the legend of Chang’e. Convinced that by proving the fairy tale is real she show her father that true love never dies, so he should dedicate himself to his dead wife’s memory instead of moving on.
What follows is a rambunctious adventure, as Fei Fei, her pet bunny Bungee, Chin and his pet frog, head to the moon to meet Chang’e and wind up on a wild chase. The moon, it turns out, is full of glowing creatures of various kinds, making it a the perfect excuse for many, many shots of light-up raves, wild action sequences, and quiet, dreamy visuals.
Though the film is heavily inspired, for a directorial debut, Glen Keane makes a solid first effort. Even with its familiarity, it is difficult not to get affected by how the film relays the importance of family, a child’s refusal to move on, a parent’s new love and the encroachment of new step siblings. Thematically, the film shares similarities 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 them process their grief.
Here, the film deals with death and childhood grief with a frankness and thoroughness that usually only comes to the forefront in Pixar films. It’s a calculated tear-jerker that doesn’t take parental loss lightly.
An element which becomes stronger upon knowing that screenwriter Audrey Wells wrote the film knowing she had cancer and would pass away during the production.
To be fair, one can easily imagine children being swept up in the film’s bold colors. Adults should find a lot to love in the visuals as well, as the story shifts from the lush greens of Fei Fei’s hometown to the cold, expansive negative spaces of the moon, to the luminous, abstract shapes of Lumeria, the hidden moon kingdom ruled over by Chang’e herself. I especially enjoyed the wild set piece where Chin plays Chang’e in a zero gravity ping pong match, and a wonderful chase sequence where Fei Fei and her new helper Gobi (an exiled, bumbling, soulful, neon green space dog, voiced by Ken Jeong) have to steal back the film’s magical gift from a band of biker chickens.
Unlike what the trailer make you believe, the film is a full blown musical with Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield and Helen Park serving as the song writers, and the score they come up with is as vibrant and powerful as the upper levels of the Disney Renaissance. The songs range from more traditional melodies to more modern compositions to sometimes skirting the lines and being compositions of both, in this way it’s very much enhancing the theme of appreciating the old while allowing acceptance of the new.
Voice performance wise, Cathy Ang does a mighty fine job as she smartly switches the modulation of her voice according to the mood of her character, and after a point of time, the lines between character and her voice starts to get blur binding them together. Robert G. Chiu makes Chin hilarious and adorable, while Phillipa Soo controls the various moods without any hiccups.
In other roles, John Cho, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh, Margaret Cho, Artt Butler, Kimiko Glenn, Ruthie Ann Miles, and Conrad Ricamora are also good. On the whole, ‘Over the Moon’ is an enjoyable family animated feature filled with splashy visuals, a big-hearted story and a couple sort-of-show stopping musical numbers.
Directed – Glen Keane
Rated – PG
Run Time – 95 minutes