Okay. Let’s see.
Cute furry animals? Check.
Giddy original songs? Mm-hmm.
Emotional moments that drive the character throughout? Check.
Wha- wait a minute, we’re watching a Disney/PIXAR film!?
Just to be clear, no. This is very much a Netflix production alongside Pearl Studio (formerly known as Oriental DreamWorks). However, from the get-go, “Over The Moon” borrows from these very tropes and that probably stems from the involvement of a Disney legend.
Making his directorial debut with this film is Glen Keane, a former key character animator at Walt Disney Studios, whose impeccable work can be evidenced in classics like “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and The Beast”, and “Tangled”. Lending their voices to the characters in the film are Cathy Ang, Robert G Chiu, Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”), Ken Jeong (“Crazy Rich Asians”), and John Cho (“Star Trek”).
Losing a loved one at a young age is never easy, and that’s what viewers are introduced to in the opening scenes of “Over The Moon”. The main character, Fei Fei, is seen sharing a tender moment with her Ma Ma and Ba Ba at the very beginning as the legend of Chang’e is being shared.
However, that happiness is not to last as Ma Ma passes away over a couple of scenes. To us, it felt similar to the opening of PIXAR’s “Up”, an emotional grave being dug up which lingers within the main character for the rest of the film. Later sequences in the film also evoke the giddy spiritual colours of “Coco”.
Our lead character, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) is later shown experiencing the grief of losing her mother. Four years pass. Fei Fei and her father (John Cho) continue to live on their own in a dainty little Chinese town. However, her life seemingly turns upside down when her Ba Ba develops an interest in a new lady, Mrs Zhong (Sandra Oh). The introduction of a new element into the family unit is strange to Fei Fei, especially considering that Mrs Zhong also has a son who comes across as an annoyance to the tween.
As such, as all good protagonists do, Fei Fei decides to take matters into her own hands and attempts to fix this misaligned situation by shooting for the moon. She ponders upon the legend of Chang’e, a lunar deity who gets stuck on the moon, waiting for her long lost love. After hours of scientific research, buying items off the Internet, and crafting her own rocket ship, she blasts off into the stars in the hopes of finding Chang’e and preventing her father’s impending marriage from ever happening. Can she succeed in her small step to the moon, or will it all prove to be a giant misfire?
To be honest, we didn’t actually mind the similarities to other Disney films because “Over The Moon” did have its own thing going on. The first act of the film is set up really well, in a manner that displays Fei Fei’s emotional turmoil to the wind of her father’s marriage. Her father’s loneliness and Fei Fei’s inability to move on are given such nuance that it was hard to not feel sorry for these conflicting heads as they just wanted what was best for each other.
Even the rocket building montage, while seemingly impossible in real life due to the limitations of Newton’s laws and lack of proper resources (yeah, you can’t just expect to build a working rocket with several purchases from the 11.11 sale), still provided great character moments for Fei Fei as her sheer will drove her on.
Long story short, Fei Fei achieves lift-off, blasting into the void of space and lands on the moon. And this second act is where the movie both strikes with luminous ambition and falters at the expense of its narrative.
Audiences are thrust into Lunaria, a luminous equivalent of the Disney castle intro mixed with Asgard’s fantastical foundation. Bubblegum pops abound aboard this high flying realm with its vividly coloured inhabitants. It was as if “Candy Crush” was animated, sans the candy and with uh… mooncakes? Radiant, neon, mooncakes.
The interstellar environment at play here is used to great effect at most times, giving viewers both a sense of scale and to reflect the emotions of certain scenes. In one particular scene, the desolate surface of the moon was juxtaposed with the small crimson wings of Lunarian lions, which we felt was the most beautiful frame of the movie. On the flip side, the neon hitches serve up much delight. However, this same component can also become very overwhelming as you avert your eyes to allow it to rest for a moment.
Now, on to the narrative. Here’s where it gets lost in space. While the first act was set up well, giving viewers enough exposition and comprehension of the lead character’s motives, the subsequent plot doesn’t quite gel together as well.
There is a moment where Fei Fei’s younger soon-to-be stepbrother plays a game of ping-pong with the moon goddess in order to prove his worth to the mission. However, this detracted from the overall flow of the film, what Fei Fei’s motive was. Similarly, Fei Fei’s mission is also riddled with mentions of “the gift”, a MacGuffin that Chang’e tasks her with finding in order for her wishes to be granted. It is not executed particularly well due to how haphazard it gets by its conclusion.
Chang’e is placed in a similarly precarious position as the movie intertwines the actual myth with a modern update for the character. In some way, it succeeds, showing the effects of endless isolation and heartbreak. The unpredictability of her character is also a plus as she barks at her subordinates in frustration but also becomes a benevolent deity that everyone loves. However, her arc suffers as by its end, as we do not have any emotional connection to her plight due to the film’s brash flow. Her constant harping over “the gift” also gets old quickly as we silently wait for Fei Fei to complete her mission.
Don’t get us wrong, there is a lot to like in “Over The Moon”. The musical numbers are unique enough; it’s sweet, sugar-rush of a ride will still appeal to viewers. There is a myriad of neon characters performing light shows. Yeah, there’s all that. But…
As much as it is a visual feast, it doesn’t quite stick the landing than what it initially set out to be: an emotional journey about losing a loved one. Instead, it becomes loud, brash, and loses its focus. It lacks a proper narrative thread, choosing to give more thrills at the expense of its arcs. It becomes mindless fun in a Jack Kirby acid trip which we thought could have been handled better.
“Over The Moon” is currently playing on Netflix.