“Over the Moon”’s emotional poignancy is the star of this sentimental journey through space.
Although its trailer looks like something out of Pixar Animation Studios, “Over the Moon” was not created by any of the major animation companies. Instead, it was a Netflix venture, and considering that animated children’s movies aren’t the streaming platform’s typical production, “Over the Moon” is a commendable first step into the genre.
The story revolves around Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), who still clings to the few pieces she has left of her mother, four years after her death. One of those pieces is the myth of Chang’e (Philippa Soo), the Chinese goddess who yearns for her deceased love Houyi on the moon. Each year during the mid-autumn festival, Fei Fei honors her mother’s memory through making her mother’s famous mooncake recipes, remembering the moon goddess, and spending time with her father. Fei Fei, however, is in for a surprise when Chin (Robert G. Chiu), the pesky eight-year-old who gatecrashes her holiday, explains that his mother, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), will be marrying Fei Fei’s father soon. Fei Fei, who feels betrayed by such news, builds a rocket to the moon to prove to her father the existence of the goddess Chang’e and her eternal love for Houyi in order to prevent the union from happening. Unfortunately, the goddess doesn’t live up to her reputation, forcing Fei Fei to search the moon for the ambiguous “Gift” that will make them both feel whole again.
The animation of Fei Fei’s hometown is detailed and visually appealing, incorporating elements of Chinese culture that are exciting to see, while the vivid color and characters of the Lunar Kingdom where Chang’e lives provide the cute adventure setting required for a film of this nature. Still, for a film whose partial appeal is its incorporation of Chinese culture and mythology, these elements could have been fleshed out further in the Lunar Kingdom as the neon, nondescript setting of Lunaria—though adorable— felt like it diluted the cultural authenticity of the story, which was one of the film’s strongest selling points alongside having an all Asian-American cast.
Other aspects of the film, such as the soundtrack, take some time to warm up to. Although Cathy Ang and Philippa Soo sing beautifully, none of the songs possess the catchy, play-in-your-head-all-day quality that “Let it Go (“Frozen”), “A Whole New World” (“Aladdin”), or “Reflection” (“Mulan”) seem to possess. Furthermore, the variety of songs featured within the film are all so different in genre that the contrast between numbers and the movie’s tone at certain parts feels jarring. To explain, the beginning and ending of the film feature many traditional musical-theatre type songs, while the middle features genre-bending tracks such as “Ultraluminary” that sound as if a discotheque accidentally produced a musical theatre number. It’s not horrible, but it does take a few listens to get used to.
One thing that the movie nails in spades, however, is its emotional depth. Fei Fei’s love for her mother and feelings of loss that intensify upon finding out her father will remarry were portrayed with a sensitivity that will move most viewers. Her character arc, as a result, is satisfying to watch as she shifts from a young girl afraid of change to one who learns how to embrace it. “Over the Moon”’s most sentimental quality, however, is the quantity of symbolism worked into the film. Fei Fei loses almost every item she clings to in memory of her mother as she learns to evolve past her grief, which might go over the heads of most young audiences but will move those who pick up on it. Similarly, the origin of Chang’e’s “Gift” feels like a plothole unless one spends time contemplating where it came from, which is another symbolic detail.
Overall, as a tale about love, loss, and families mending themselves whole again, “Over the Moon” is a worthwhile watch that may elicit a few tears with its resonance. There are parts of the film that leave a little more to be desired in terms of development — namely the incorporation of Chinese culture on Lunaria and its tonally disjointed soundtrack — but these are minor details when compared to the film’s ability to relate to viewers with its messages about moving forward, letting go, and embracing love no matter where it comes from.
Created by: Glen Keane, Gennie Rim, Peilin Chou, Audrey Wells
Starring: Cathay Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Ruthie Ann Miles, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2020
This article was updated at 10:15pm on Jan 6, 2021 to clarify its viewpoint that while “Over the Moon”’s incorporation of Chinese culture into its visual art is not exempt from criticism regarding the depths at which the culture’s intricacies are portrayed, it was indeed a large project committed to increasing Asian and Asian-American representation. “Over the Moon,” as a result, is groundbreaking with its contribution of diversity to the animated film genre; the film’s creation allows a whole new generation of Asian-American youths to grow up feeling seen in Fei Fei’s story, while also bringing to others outside of the Asian-American community a genuine narrative of a group of people that has been historically underrepresented in American film.
Image courtesy of The Envoy Web.