Over The Moon – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: a young girl is told a story by her mother about the moon goddess who lives on the moon awaiting the return of her true love. When the girl’s mother dies, it is just her and her father. When, after a few years, her father meets another woman and begins a new relationship, the girl, not wanting to have a stepmother, decides to build a space ship and look for the moon goddess. 

Is it any good?: Over The Moon is an okay animated film very much in the tradition of modern Disney/Pixar animated films. Co-directors, Glen Keane and John Kahrs are both ex-Disney animators and that is evident in this Netflix/Pearl studios production. The animation is very good and the story very much in the tone of similar Pixar/Disney works. 

Over The Moon begins well but flags a little in the middle. It does, however, pick up in the final third and ends nicely. Not quite hitting the heights of Pixar but a good effort nonetheless. 

Spoiler territory: Ma Ma (Ruthie Ann Miles) brushes her daughter, Fei Fei’s (Cathy Ang) hair as she tells her the story of the Moon Goddess, Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) who took a magic potion and floated away to the moon, leaving her true love, Houyi (Conrad Ricamora), on earth. The potion made Chang’e immortal and now she waits on the moon in the hope of being one day reunited with Houyi. 

Along with Fei Fei’s father, Ba Ba (John Cho), the family-run a moon cake shop business. Ma Ma becomes sick and gives Fei Fei a rabbit that she names Bungee. A short time later, she dies. Four years after her death, a preteen Fei Fei is helping her father run the moon cake store and makes deliveries on her bicycle, accompanied by Bungee. 

Returning from her deliveries one day, Fei Fei comes into the kitchen to find her father making moon cakes with dates. Fei Fei is confused and points out that Ma Ma never used dates when making moon cakes. Ba Ba tells her he is trying a new recipe that Mrs Zhong (Sandra Oh) uses. Fei Fei meets Mrs Zhong. She can see by the way her father interacts with Mrs Zhong, that they are attracted to one another. 

Before she can give it any more thought, Chin (Robert G. Chiu) leapfrogs over her back and starts chatting incessantly. Chin is Mrs Zhong’s young son. He tells Fei Fei he has a superpower. He can run through walls. Does she want him to prove it? Fei Fei says yes. Chin runs into the wall. 

Later, Ba Ba tries to gently tell Fei Fei about Mrs Zhong but is interrupted by a visit from the family. All of them. Mrs Zhong is also in attendance. Fei Fei sees how close her father and Mrs Zhong are. At the table, the family make fun of the story of Chang’e, much to Fei Fei’s annoyance. After voicing her disapproval at their dismissal of the myth, she leaves the room. 

Chin irritates her further, telling her that they are to become brother and sister. Mrs Zhong gives her a moon cake, without dates, as a peace offering. Fei Fei retires to her bedroom, casting the moon cake to one side. Whilst in her bedroom, Bungee jumps out of the window and Fei Fei goes after the rabbit. 

She finds the rabbit and while looking at the full moon, decides she is going to build a rocket to fly there. The next day, Fei Fei starts building prototype rockets. All of them fail. A distracted moment at school shows her what she has been missing. Fei Fei builds her rocket ship. 

Launch night and her best-laid plans seemed to have gone awry as nothing happens as she flicks all of the switches in her cockpit. The rocket slowly comes to life and hurtles along its launch tracks and up towards the moon. An ecstatic Fei Fei looks at the Moon, her target looming large. 

The rocket fails and begins to hurtle back towards Earth. Chin, who had snuck onto the ship, begins screaming. A surprised Fei Fei tells him she did not calculate for his extra weight. As the ship continues to fall, a shaft of light, a tractor beam, catches it. The rocket gets pulled back towards the moon. A couple brightly, multicoloured, winged lions, pick up Fei Fei and Chin and take them to a large auditorium.

The two would-be siblings are welcomed by a dazzling light show and song by Chang’e herself. An overcome Fei Fei runs onto the stage and hugs the legs of Chang’e, much to the astonishment of the Lunarians, the inhabitants of the moon. 

Chang’e looks down at Fei Fei. She asks if she has her gift. Fei Fei has no idea what gift she wants or means and tells her that she only wants to prove to her father that Chang’e is real and that true love is forever. Could she take a photo with her?

Chang’e agrees to the photo but tells her she can only get the photo if she brings the gift. Chang’e tells all of the gathered Lunarians that whomever brings her the gift will have any wish they want granted. Recovering the gift will give her a chance to bring Houyi back. All of the citizens leave to find the elusive gift. Chang’e tells her helper, a rabbit called Jade, to prepare for the gift.

Chin tells Fei Fei that he will help her find the gift. Fei Fei does not want his help or for him to be her sibling and tells him in no uncertain terms. They go their separate ways. Fei Fei hitches a ride back to the rocket ship with some Lunarian chicken bikers,telling them she knows where the gift is and hoping to find the answer there.

Chin decides that he will get the photo from Chang’e. She challenges him to a game of ping pong, telling him that if he wins, she will give him the photo. If he loses, he has to get her the gift. Chin wins but an angry Chang’e locks him away, furious that her time is running out. 

Fei Fei gets back to the rocket. There she meets another Lunarian, Gobi (Ken Jeong). Gobi used to be Chang’e’s aide. The chickens tell Fei Fei he was kicked out. Fei Fei finds a Chang’e doll that her mother gifted her. She gets excited, sure that it must be the gift that Chang’e wants. The chickens steal it from her and ride off. Fei Fei and Gobi give chase. 

Bungee sees Jade preparing for the arrival of the gift. She interrupts his preparations and ends up being endowed with magic, blaster ears. She leaves Jade alone, allowing him to finish his preparations. Fei Fei and Gobi continue to try to get to Lunaria. Giant frogs come up from the ground and Gobi tells Fei Fei that they are going to Lunaria to feed. Fei Fei and Gobi hitch a ride on the back of one of them. 

Gobi tells Fei Fei he was banished from the palace because of a song he sang to Chang’e. He sings her the song. It is all about not living in the past and embracing the present and the living. In the palace, an increasingly morose Chang’e is cheered when Jade brings her magic that can help bring Houyi back once she obtains the gift. 

Gobi and Fei Fei get to Lunaria. They see the chickens and manage to get the doll back. In the melee that follows, the doll gets destroyed. Fei Fei is distraught. She is stuck on the moon and is worried that her father will marry Mrs Zhong. Gobi tells her she needs to eat something. She bites into the Moon cake that Mrs Zhong gave her and finds a piece of a jade amulet. She realises it must be the gift. 

She takes it to Chang’e. Chang’e puts it together with another piece and Houyi is brought back, the two coming together in a beautiful garden. He does not stay for long telling her he cannot stay as he is no longer alive. He tells her that she has to move on with her life. 

A bereft Chang’e falls into a depression, plunging the moon into darkness. She cocoons herself in a room; the chamber of exquisite sadness. Outside the room, Gobi, Chin, Bungee and Jade cannot get in. Fei Fei easily phases through the wall into the room. She tells Chang’e that she has come to get her out. She sees memories of losing her mother and cutting her own hair in anger. 

Chang’e tells her that the room is not for her. Chin’s love for Fei Fei allows him to enter the room. Fei Fei tells Chang’e that she needs to open her heart and let her people love her. Chang’e relents and the kingdom flourishes again. Chang’e gives her the photo and tells her that she can go home, getting the flying lions to take her and Chin. Bungee stays with Jade. The photo burns upon reentry. 

Back on Earth, Ba Ba marries Mrs Zhong. Some time later, the family are all gathered for another dinner and the talk turns to Chang’e again because the moon is obscured by clouds. Fei Fei smiles. Later, the father and daughter look to the moon like all of the family used to do. Ba Ba leaves Fei Fei to her thoughts. She looks up to the moon. The end. 

Final thoughts: Over The Moon has a better second half but really does flag in the middle. Like the brilliant Pixar film from 2015, Inside Out, this film deals with sadness. Unlike that film, there is not enough of a build-up to create the emotional resonance needed to make it impactful. It is also a musical. 

That is not a problem but having central a character in Chang’e who is so close to Frozen’s Elsa, a similarly omnipotent songstress in her story is a problem that invite comparison.

That film was boosted by the strength of its signature song, even if overall, it was not a particularly brilliant film. Over The Moon is more consistent with the quality of its songs that are comforting in the familiarity of their sound but none are so outstanding as to carry the film. 

The film is listed at being ninety-five minutes long but is closer to eighty-five, the final ten minutes being credits. Overall, Over The Moon is a watchable film that suffers in comparison to similar fare. Some might say that, though the majority of the animation is first-rate, there is some laziness when it comes to the Lunarians who are just colourful shapes, weakening the visual experience a little. 

Over The Moon will probably hold the attention of younger children but older ones might quickly lose interest. A middling effort. 

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