Over the Moon (2020)
“Over the Moon” stars Cathy Ang, Robert G. Chiu, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Ruthie Ann Miles, Margaret Cho, Kimiko Glenn, and Sandra Oh. Released on Netflix on October 23, 2020, the film is about a girl who flies a rocket ship to meet the moon goddess.
The film features the directorial debut of Glen Keane, a former Disney character animator who is known for directing the 2017 short film “Dear Basketball”, and is co-directed by John Kahrs, an animator who directed the 2012 short film “Paperman”. A lot of people have been saying plenty of weird things about the moon, like the fact that it was made out of cheese, but do they also know that a mysterious goddess lives there? I’m pretty sure a lot of Chinese audiences already do. After making his debut with the Oscar-winning short “Dear Basketball”, former Disney worker Glen Keane is taking on his next big challenge: directing a full-length animated film for Netflix, with the assistance of another Disney animator John Kahrs, of course. Yes, you read that right, two former Disney employees who specialize in animation helming a non-Disney animated feature for a streaming service. You know, 2020 may be a horrible year for everyone, but you have to admit, it isn’t without moments like this. This is another animated film from Pearl Studio (formerly known as Oriental DreamWorks), a production company from China that is responsible for co-producing “Kung Fu Panda 3” and last year’s “Abominable” with DreamWorks Animation, so expect plenty of elements that are based on Chinese culture when it comes to the animation. It is also another film that is set to compete with the other animated features of 2020 like “Onward” and “The Willoughbys” to earn the big trophy during next year’s Oscars. So far, Glen Keane’s feature directorial debut has already received a pretty good reception from critics, which could increase its chances to earn a slot in the big leagues. Is it also something that general audiences will enjoy as well? Let’s blast off into space and find out.
Inspired by the classic Chinese legend of Chang’e, the film tells the story of Fei Fei (Ang), a teenage girl who believes in the moon goddess (Soo) because of the stories that her late mother shared. Hoping to prove that the legend is true, she builds a rocket ship and flies it to the moon, which houses a colorful utopia lead by the goddess herself, who is desperate to see her true love again. With the assistance of her soon-to-be-stepbrother Chin (Chiu) and Gobi (Jeong), the moon goddess’s former royal advisor, Fei Fei goes on a perilous journey across the vibrant landscape to find “The Gift”, the only thing that can reunite Chang’e with her love. Imagine if Disney got married to DreamWorks Animation and they have a baby together. That baby would be “Over the Moon”, an animated space adventure that’s simplistic to the touch and carries a suitable amount of love in its body. The story has a few familiar elements that’ll remind a lot of people of the Disney films from the past, such as its musical numbers, the animal sidekick, and the first 10 minutes, which can lead to concerns about it being a Disney knockoff. It’s pretty inevitable at this point since again, the film is helmed by two former Disney animators. If that’s true, then this is probably the only Disney knockoff that’s actually quite good. This is another animated film from Netflix that caters to both types of audiences when it comes to the story: kids and adults. Children can appreciate the vibrant, glow-in-the-dark eye candy that appear on the screen, but they’ll also appreciate the film’s soulful message as well. Same goes to their parents and child-less adults. This was the last film to be written by Audrey Wells, who died of cancer in 2018, two years before its official release. Known for writing scripts for films like “The Truth About Cats & Dogs”, “The Game Plan”, “A Dog’s Purpose” and “The Hate U Give”, Wells delivered a solidly-written story that will surely resonate with her family and the viewers as it represents the fact that love is forever. The execution onscreen was far from perfect, but directors Glen Keane and John Kahrs were able to provide enough heart and charm in Wells’ script to make the film both entertaining and touching. While the characters themselves weren’t 100% memorable, especially Gobi, they’re likable enough to drive the story forward, and they’re backed up by an enjoyable voice cast, ranging from the suitably impressive Cathy Ang as Fei Fei to the delightful Phillipa Soo as Chang’e. At first I was worried that Chin was going to be the bane of my existence when it comes to his personality, but then I wound up feeling glad that the film was able to prove me wrong. I would’ve liked to see him get the same development treatment as Fei Fei and Chang’e since they’re both yearning to reunite with their loved ones, but other than that, I found him to be a decent character. Gobi, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, he’s pretty tolerable and he’s nicely voiced by Ken Jeong. It’s just that he was trying a bit too hard to be like the other comic reliefs from Disney in terms of his humor. He’s fine, but at the same time, he’s not that lovable. I know I keep comparing it to Disney’s other films, but I just couldn’t help it. I’m sorry. The comparisons between them and the fact that the directors used to work for Mickey Mouse were so noticeable that I had no choice but to do it. I was afraid that this would happen. Anyway, let’s talk about the animation, aka “colorized eye candy”. The animation works well in representing its Chinese culture and setting, but the city of Lunaria is where it shines the most, literally. In fact, it’s so bright that you’ll have to wear sunglasses to prevent your eyes from being blinded by its glaring beauty. The film uses the mixture of CGI and traditional animation to display its style and the vibrant designs with great effect, creating a satisfyingly gorgeous experience for those who appreciate the art of animation. As for the musical numbers, they’re pretty good, and yes, they’re performed by the same actors who voiced the characters. I thought Cathy Ang did well with her solo “Rocket to the Moon”, but I had to give props to Phillipa Soo for putting on a dazzling show with some of her own musical sequences. That’s like the second time this year that Soo was able to impress me with her singing voice, the first being “Hamilton” of course. Hope I get to see more of her in the future.
Overall, “Over the Moon” is a knockoff of some of Disney’s best works, but it’s an effective knockoff with heart. While its story didn’t soar quite as high as it wanted to, it was still able to deliver a pleasant moon-sized adventure that’s out of this world. Thanks to its talented voice cast, its gorgeous animation, and a respectable script that’s filled with thought-provoking messages, this is another heartfelt animated feature on Netflix that I would recommend to people of all ages. Just don’t compare it to the animated films from Disney like I did.
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