Literal Disney Legend Glen Keane makes his feature-length directorial debut with the new Netflix animated musical, Over the Moon. A veteran of the Mouse House’s animation department during the Disney Renaissance in the 90s, Keane has worked on such classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. In Over the Moon, Keane directs from a script by the late Audrey Wells (The Hate U Give); the movie also features songs written by Christopher Curtis (Chaplin: The Musical), Marjorie Duffield (Someday) and Helen Park (KPOP the Musical). An explosion of wonder, color and magic, Over the Moon tells a beautifully sentimental story of family and love, with super catchy songs mixed in.
Over the Moon follows a brilliant young girl, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), who grows up hearing the myth of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), a goddess who took an immortality potion and lives alone on the moon pining for the love she lost. Four years after the death of her mother, Fei Fei isn’t accepting of her father (John Cho) dating Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), or of her would-be stepbrother Chin (Robert G. Chiu). Determined to remind her father of his love for her mother, Fei Fei sets out to build a rocket to the moon and prove Chang’e is real. Though Fei Fei makes it to the moon, with Chin as a stowaway, Chang’e isn’t at all what she expected and sends the young girl on a quest. Fei Fei will have to open her heart and learn to move forward in order to help Chang’e and make sure she and Chin return home safely.
Pulling from the real-life myth of Chang’e, Wells weaves a touching story of family, love and loss in Over the Moon. The script excellently parallels the stories of Chang’e and Fei Fei, who both struggle to move forward with their lives after a great loss, and the movie delivers a poignant message about dealing with grief. Though that’s perhaps a heavy subject matter for a children’s movie, Over the Moon deftly handles such a tough topic with a gentleness that will help folks young and old who are wrangling with their own grief. If there is one regard in which the Over the Moon script struggles, it’s in getting the story started, with the plot not really kicking off until 20 minutes into the film. Still, the exposition and character setup is necessary to the themes and storyline, especially in the third act, so it’s ultimately forgivable that the beginning drags just a bit.
Similarly, Over the Moon doesn’t find its footing in terms of its musical numbers until the third song, “Rocket to the Moon,” in which Ang shows off the full breadth of her singing ability. It’s a show-stopping number that not only kickstarts the real story of the film but launches Over the Moon into the upper echelons of animated musicals. It helps that this song is followed by two certified bops, “Ultraluminary,” sung by Soo’s Chang’e, and “Hey Boy,” in which Soo sings opposite Chiu’s Chin. The latter acts of the movie are anchored by more emotional songs, in which Soo and Ang both shine – and Ken Jeong offers a surprisingly stirring performance singing “Wonderful” as the green moon creature Gobi – giving Over the Moon a much-needed range in its soundtrack. Altogether, the voice cast of Over the Moon is exceptionally strong, and their singing talents are showcased well in the film’s musical numbers.
Ultimately, Over the Moon falls into the category of many recent animated films that have a more complex story than many of the children’s films that came before – including those during the Disney Renaissance. It’s not a simple story about a hero and a villain, but one with complicated, three-dimensional characters who make mistakes and learn from them. This gives Over the Moon a wonderful depth, and allows the movie’s younger viewers the freedom and confidence to tackle some of life’s more difficult emotions. It also helps to make Over the Moon a terrific watch for the whole family, since it contains a message and themes that are relevant to folks of any age, especially those who know what it means to lose a parent.
As such, Over the Moon is a marvelous movie to watch with the whole family, or for anyone missing their family. With its story and characters steeped in not only Chinese myth, but the country’s culture and traditions, Over the Moon may be particularly special for Chinese-American viewers. To be sure, Over the Moon is relatable to everyone. Family, love and grief are themes that transcend culture and Over the Moon cleverly weaves them together with a specifically Chinese story for a tale that will touch the hearts of everyone who watches it. Between Wells’ script, Keane’s masterful directing and the stunning voice performances, all elements of Over the Moon come together to create a breathtakingly memorable animated musical.
Over the Moon starts streaming Friday, October 23 on Netflix. It is 95 minutes long and rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action.
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