REVIEW: Netflix’s Over the Moon

Over the Moon new trailer

Over the Moon is the new animated film from Netflix that takes the audience on a beautiful, musical adventure to the moon and back.

The film tells the story of Fei Fei (played by Cathy Ang), a young girl who loves the story of Chang’e, the goddess eternally waiting for her true love while trapped on the moon. Reeling from a deep personal loss and struggling to adjust to some major changes in her family, Fei Fei decides to build a rocket to fly to the moon to prove the existence of the Moon Goddess and (what she perceives) as the immortal nature of true love. But when she arrives on the moon and in the magical realm of Lunaria, Fei Fei discovers that Chang’e (played by Phillipa Soo) is not exactly what she expects and both characters learn some hard lessons about the complex nature of love and the importance of letting go.

Over the moon family 1The music is the best part of Over the Moon as the songs are expertly integrated with the story, written in different genres, and performed expertly by the talented voice cast. While the younger audiences will enjoy Fei Fei’s rousing ballad and Chang’e’s K-pop-inspired number and hiphop song, the parents watching will be struck with nostalgia for 90s era Disney musicals with the opening numbers and the final, heartbreaking duet by Fei Fei and Chang’e.

The songs follow the musical theater style, not necessarily meant to stand on their own but there to effectively move the story along. Their purpose is to enhance the storytelling and not just to give the characters (and their voice cast) opportunities to belt out catchy tunes, as is becoming the trend with the more recent Disney musical films. I do feel that we were missing a finale song or a powerful reprise at the end to properly conclude the film’s musical arc but other than that, the songs were amazing.

Netflix

The animation during the earthbound scenes is some of the best I’ve seen recently, with the opening scenes blending traditional 2D with modern 3D techniques. There is meticulous attention to detail in the setting of the Chinese village where Fei Fei and her family lives and even the baking of moon cakes is a work of art and a joy to behold. This comes as no surprise given that the movie was directed by legendary animator Glen Keane, the man who animated Ariel, Pocahontas, and Tarzan.

On the other hand, once Fei Fei and her friends arrive in Lunaria, the animation quality shifts. No doubt to distinguish this new world from the realistic elements on earth, Lunaria is characterized by neon colors and strange creatures. But while there is indeed a stark contrast with the scenes in the mortal world, the animation of Lunaria, with the exception of Chang’e, is disappointing and sadly unimaginative.

over the moon lunariaChang’e is the only character who stands out, as well she should, but it’s sad to see a magical realm populated by neon-colored blobs instead of characters with more definition. There are even a few characters who are best described as literal Angry Birds. And even Gobi (played by Ken Jeong), Fei Fez’s new friend and a significant character in his own right, makes less of an impact because he looks like a neon-green light blob of a dog.

I’m not as “over the moon” (yes, pun very much intended) as I thought I would be about Over the Moon. While the music, animation, and voice acting are excellent, some elements of the story were not as compelling as they could have been. The film works for the most part when focusing on the young heroine’s emotional and magical journey, but it somehow falls flat when it comes to characterization of another supposedly central character, the Moon Goddess Chang’e.

Over the Moon Chang'eWhile Over the Moon makes the most of casting Broadway star Soo in the role of the goddess by giving her exciting solos to demonstrate her range, the film does not delve deeper into her character and she comes across more as a vessel for either Fei Fei’s perceptions or an excuse for a K-pop diva number in the middle of the film (which is an undoubted BOP, by the way.) While she does seem determined to be reunited with her mortal lover, demanding a mysterious gift from Fei Fei, there is something still very sinister about Chang’e, in stark contrast with the seemingly pure and innocent character Fei Fei has always imagined her as. There are some subtle hints from the other denizens of Lunaria that their divine leader is not as benevolent as the legends paint her and that darkness would have been very intriguing and an effective way of adding nuance to such an important character.

This would have been a very fascinating avenue to explore, had Over the Moon decided to, but sadly the more interesting aspects of Chang’e’s character, such as her willingly choosing immortality and divine powers over a simple, mortal existence, were more explicitly tackled in a throwaway discussion by Fei Fei’s aunties than by showing the character herself grappling with the dilemma. But in the end, she suddenly reverts to an innocent and tragic figure, only to be rescued by Fei Fei, a predictable outcome but one that would have had more weight had we learned more about the goddess herself.

Netflix

Over the Moon‘s premise and style leads to comparisons with other similar animated films, most notably Pixar’s Coco. But though there are similar themes of grief, family, and a young hero’s journey into a supernatural world, Over the Moon does not quite resonate as powerfully as Coco did. Among the reasons for this include the aforementioned lazy animation in the Lunaria scenes as well as the inadequate characterization of Chang’e.

While Over the Moon doesn’t quite reach the heights it has soared to, there is still a lot to love about this charming film. The animation (for the most part) and music are beautiful, the diverse cast deliver touching performances, and the story of a young hero trying to adjust to changes in her family is still very relatable. Fei Fei’s journey to understanding the complex nature of love is one worth taking and is an important struggle to portray in film, especially for younger audiences.

One can always enhance one’s enjoyment of the film by singing along to the wonderful new songs it has given us:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSt6UxvtDqY