Netflix’s latest original animated film, “Over the Moon,” shines bright with its all-Asian voice cast starring Phillipa Soo, John Cho, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh, and newcomer Cathy Ang.
“Over the Moon” follows the story of Fei Fei, a young girl who, enamored with the stories her late mother told her of the moon goddess Chang’e, builds a rocket to fly to the moon and meet her. Believing that proving the goddess’ existence will prevent her father from remarrying, she sets off on her astral quest.
“Over the Moon” is the directorial debut of legendary animator Glen Keane’s, who’s known for his work in “Pocahontas,” “Tarzan” and “Aladdin.” Through Chinese folklore and modern pop culture, the cast and crew of “Over the Moon” deliver a heartfelt and radiant animated film.
Though the film retells the story of a classic Chinese myth, many of the elements — both in narrative and characters — of “Over the Moon” will seem all too familiar. It echoes previous animated feature films like “Coco,” where another child explores the idea of death through folklore and mythology; “Frozen” with its goofy and eccentric sidekick; and “Up” with an amiable and naive stowaway child. Though it’s reminiscent of other, more successful films, perhaps the recycled use of narrative elements and character archetypes works to the film’s charm. Sure, it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it does change what the wheel looks like. It’s possible that this similar story of grief and loss, previously tackled by the likes of “Bambi,” “The Lion King” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” is what allows it to be more accessible to Western audiences who know nothing of Chinese mythology, East-Asian culture or the Moon Festival.
Regardless of the story, “Over the Moon” is stunning with its CGI animation and great detail. The town Fei Fei lives in holds golden fields and beautiful Chinese architecture. The mooncakes that Fei Fei and her family pride themselves in making look tasty and, much like the other food in the dinner scene, so realistic. Even Fei Fei’s pet rabbit, Bungee, looks so fluffy that you just want to reach through the screen and pet her. Aside from all this, the different outfits — created by Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei — that Chang’e wears are all beautiful and unique in their own ways, illustrating different facets of culture and personality.
Though the film’s animation is a visual delight, the moon kingdom of Lunaria falls short of expectation. Despite being an ultra-colorful spectacle, it lacks any texture. All the buildings and its inhabitants are merely amorphous blobs, save for some story characters like sentient mooncakes, motorcycle-riding “Angry Birds”-esque characters dubbed biker chicks (get it?) and Ken Jeong’s character, Gobi.
The film’s score is composed by Steven Price, with its original songs by Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield and Helen Park. Phillipa Soo’s performance as Chang’e shines as one of the highlights of the film. Her voice is amazing, and she proves that through songs like the catchy dance-pop “Ultraluminary,” tender and beautiful “Yours Forever (Reprise)” and the heartfelt ballad of “Love Someone New.” Even Fei Fei’s (Cathy Ang) “I want” song, “Rocket to the Moon,” takes its place up there alongside “Let It Go” or “How Far I’ll Go” from “Frozen” and “Moana,” respectively. Ken Jeong even has his own musical number, the ukulele-laden “Wonderful.” If this film piques your interest in any way, come for the music, stay for the story.
It’s a beautiful narrative that will make you tear up and hold your loved ones closer, and it delivers brilliant visual and musical elements that will keep you in awe and humming along throughout. “Over the Moon” shoots for the stars in its 100 minute run time and although it may falter in some areas, it’s still able to reach the hearts, and ears, of many viewers.