REEL Review – Over the Moon (2020)

Director: Glen Keane, John Kahrs | 1h 36mins | Animation, Musical, Comedy

Four years after the death of her mother, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) has to deal with her father (John Cho) trying to move on with new partner Mrs Zhong (Sandra Oh) by proving the legend of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) is true, and stop their upcoming marriage.

As big as Netflix’s original content schedule gets, they still don’t quite match the behemoth of Disney, which is exactly who they’re trying to take on with their newest feature Over the Moon. Loosely based on Chinese mythology, it mainly focuses on the legend of Chang’e – the goddess of the moon. In this version of the tale, Chang’e takes a potion of immortality causing her to rise to the moon, away from her mortal lover Houyi (Conrad Ricamora). Around a dinner table one evening, our young hero Fei Fei argues with her aunties as they claim Chang’e took both potions as a selfish act to rise to immortality alone, a notion she vehemently denies.

Directors Glen Keane and John Kahrs have directed a few shorts together, but both have extensive experience in Pixar and Disney features – Aladdin, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Tangled, Frozen, and Toy Story 2 – just to name a few. It clearly shows in the visual style, stunning animation and the bold choice of many parts surrounding Lunaria (Chang’e’s realm – the other side of the moon) have large areas of black or sparse detail, but sections between filled with the colourful inhabitants. In their first feature direction, they create a full musical accompaniment alongside their animation.

The story in kicked into gear by Fei Fei’s father bringing home Mrs Zhong (though with few lines, Sandra Oh is brilliant as ever) and her son Chin (almost entirely unknown Robert G. Chiu) and intends to marry soon. Fei Fei still holds the memory of her mother dear, the idea of replacing her is out of the question. The stories of Chang’e are nothing but fact to her, so builds a make-shift rocket and uses her knowledge of the incomplete monorail to launch herself high in the air – only to find Chin as a stowaway.

The music is somewhat hit and miss, the ping pong battle between Chang’e and Chin is visually great and the accompanying song matches excellently, but the introduction to the goddess through her stadium tune Ultraluminary is fairly generic and bland pop. Arguably the best is Wonderful performed by Ken Jeong as Gobi (whose performances will either be incredibly endearing or annoying – depending on your opinions of Jeong) as he sings to Fei Fei. It’s the piece with the most emotional resonance (aside from the opening, but that’s more of a musical sequence rather than a individual song) and better at driving the narrative.

Though the visuals of Lunaria open up the opportunity for the more creative and entertaining side of the film, it’s actually the time spent on Earth that works better. The more human and relatable aspects help to ground the film – and might be a bit sugary sweet – but are far more emotional than most of what happens a thousand miles up. There’s too much of a disconnect between the colourful fun and moving humanity of the loss of a parent, and acceptance to move on, to make Over the Moon great, but enough to entertain and get emotionally invested.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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