Written by: Audrey Wells, Alice Wu, Jennifer Yee McDevitt
Starring: Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Ruthie Ann Miles, Margaret Cho
Losing the ones you love comes as a natural part of life no matter how hard we try and fight it. When the moments of sadness pass, there’s still plenty of our existence to experience, which Over the Moon attempts to tackle in a truly meaningful way. With the explosion of vibrant colors serving as its background, it bypasses the issues of its storytelling to land its thematic ideas with enough heft to cause some misty eyes.
Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) has always adored her mother’s tale about the Moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) and how she awaits the return of her long lost love. After the mother’s death, Fei Fei’s father attempts to remarry, much to the objections of the protagonist, which leads her on a journey to prove the power of one true love by traveling to the moon and confirming the truth of this supposed fable.
Stories told to children at their young age don’t always contain the complete truth, as the fantastical nature provides value to the child. It explains why parents keep the facade of Santa Claus going for such a long time. Fei Fei similarly has heard the story of Chang’e for so long with her father believing it to be a fable. Whether Fei Fei’s mother truly believed in the truth of the story does not get revealed with her dying early in the film, we can be certain the young protagonist believes it to be fact. It’s what makes her conviction to fly up to the moon unrelenting, as she believes the proof of Chang’e will stop her father from marrying someone else.
A childlike but understandable perspective for her take on and the effort to get there really shows her intelligence and also some bad parenting with the materials she seemingly easily purchases in order to make a working rocket ship. This determination succeeds and as she gets to the moon with her sidekick bunny and potentially new stepbrother, Chin (Robert G. Chiu), the growth process begins for the young protagonist. While she learns of the true existence of Chang’e, Fei Fei’s experience gives credence to the idea of never meeting your heroes as the goddess proves to not be as noble as the stories state. However, the stories did accurately indicate that she does miss her lover and desperately wants to bring him with her to living on the moon. The film thrives with its theme about moving on, as Chang’e and Fei Fei’s lessons parallel each other, as they have both lost loved ones dear to them, who they desperately want to bring back. Over the Moon perfectly captures the essence of reality within this fantastical setting to tell a valuable lesson and the moments work exceptionally well.
Where Over the Moon evades “great” status comes from most of the sequences on the moon being complete filler for the story. Once Fei Fei arrives on the moon, Chang’e essentially puts on a concert for the creatures she basically treats as pawns. Splashes and explosions of euphoric colors assault the screen to show the goddess has some tremendous charisma and magical powers to boast. She only agrees to provide Fei Fei with the necessary proof of her existence if the young girl traverses the moon and finds an important item that will assist in bringing back her lover. This trek to find this arbitrary item truly sinks the movie because it falls out of line with the emotional core of the story and just becomes an excuse for Fei Fei to experience other segments of the moon. No explanation gets provided as to why this omnipotent goddess after so long being up on the moon never attempted to search for this all-important item herself or with the help of her pawns. It makes this whole trek feel quite pointless and nothing remotely interesting occurs during the entire second act where this takes place.
The second act nearly did away with most of the goodwill of the beginning but then it gets completely saved by the exclamation point of the end. It combines the visual extravaganza, the music, and the message in a way where some tears may flow. This displays a woeful level of unevenness in the overall quality but the overflowing joy and emotional fortitude of the finale as both Chang’e and Fei Fei learn the valuable lesson this film has to offer splendidly redeems the head-scratching second act.
Animated films typically do not receive the acclaim they deserve for costume work and Over the Moon displays excellence in displaying how it defines each character. The intricate details appear in the glorious gowns of Chang’e. These details almost tell their own story in such a meaningful way in collaboration with the songs. The tracks utilized in the film truly spell out the feelings of the characters and all regularly work with “Rocket to the Moon” being the most poignant and most likely to be the one you will remember days after experiencing the film.
Uneven in moments but extremely potent in ways Pixar films typically achieve, Over the Moon proves to be a winner for Netflix and their quirky bunch of animated features. This film mixes the emotional attachment of these characters with its songs so well it can make you look over the forgettable second act to enjoy the truly majestic moments it has to offer.