Over the Moon (2020)
Director: Glen Keane, John Kahrs
Screenwriter: Audrey Welles
Starring: Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ruthie Ann Miles, Robert G. Chiu, John Cho, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh
Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2021 Oscars, Netflix brings to life the musical fantasy animation Over the Moon. Telling the story of Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) and her bunny sidekick Bungee who find themselves embarking on a space exploration like no other, Over The Moon is a modern day fairy tale told through bright, colourful, mystical animation at the hand of Walt Disney Studios’ veteran director Glen Keane (Beauty and the Beast; Tarzan; Tangled).
In a heartfelt epilogue we see Fei Fei’s family fall apart when her mother, Ma Ma (Ruthie Ann Miles), tragically loses her battle with a terminal illness. Beautiful songs and stunning sketch-book style animation are used to re-enact the story of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), a heartbroken goddess who lives on the moon pining after her fallen love, Hou Yi. The fairytale of Chang’e provides both an emotional and sentimental connection between Fei Fei and her mother, and drives the plot after her death.
The film takes place during the annual celebrations of The Moon Festival, a day that signifies the end of the Autumn harvest and a time in which families gather for a feast – one that includes famous mooncakes which Fei Fei and her father make for their whole town. The tradition is beautifully told through Keane’s art of storytelling; the emotional weight of the mooncake baking scene invites us to relate to Fei Fei’s love for the holiday and her ambition to keep the tradition alive in the memory of her mother.
After being mocked by her family for believing in the mythical goddess Chang’e, Fei Fei’s strength and courage is tested as she finds herself on a mission to prove her family wrong. She uses her scientific brain and strong intuition to build a rocket ship to fly to the moon and meet Chang’e. En route to the moon she finds a stowaway in her rocket, Chin (Robert G. Chiu). Chin brings a comic relief to the film that at times runs the risk of being too sad; his infectious positivity keeps the story afloat and teaches Fei Fei that change isn’t always a bad thing.
In a surprising turn of events, the pair realise Chang’e is in fact a pop star, performing for the population of her moon kingdom. In a Eurovision Song Contest-style performance with pyrotechnics, dramatic costume changes and an incredibly catchy song, Fei Fei discovers Chang’e is not all she had hoped. Fei Fei is then sent on a mission to bring Chang’e a long lost gift, in exchange for… a selfie with the goddess. This would of course prove to Fei Fei’s family that Chang’e is real.
The plot suffers from too many twists and turns and not enough direct focus on the task at hand. We are constantly introduced to new characters, all of whom are so brightly coloured you need to be wearing sunglasses to see them properly. The film itself is at its strongest when Fei Fei is at home with her family, dealing with the loss of her mother, the introduction of her father’s new girlfriend and the dynamic between the different generations of her family.
It also dips quite substantially in the middle when we are taken on a journey across the moon where the quality in animation undergoes a significant downturn in quality. On paper, Over the Moon should have the same emotive effect as films being made by Disney or Pixar but lacks the same level of narrative stability and creative inspiration.
The animation style is varied throughout the entirety of Over the Moon, the use of sketch-book style sequences helping to drive the traditional aspect of the The Moon Festival celebrations and the folk tale behind Chang’e, whilst the block shapes, bright colours and smooth surfaces used on the moon provide a much more child-friendly aesthetic.
Over the Moon features relevant themes of loss and personal ambition, but is distinctly designed for a younger audience via the use of inventive animation styles and songs that the kids will be singing for weeks. It is jam packed with likeable characters and plenty of life lessons along the way, but doesn’t have the same emotional punch as some of its fellow Academy Award nominees, despite how heart-warming it is to see Glen Keane back in the animation game.