REVIEW: Over the Moon [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 95 minutes
    Release Date: October 23rd, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Pearl Studio / Netflix
    Director(s): Glen Keane / John Kahrs (co-director)
    Writer(s): Audrey Wells

Cherish life and everything you love.

As an Auntie jokes during dinner on the night of the Chinese Moon Festival, the myth concerning Moon Goddess Chang’e isn’t always one about love. Some versions have it that she stole the immortality elixir from her love Hou Yi—taking it from his hiding place all for herself shortly after he decided forget it in order to remain on Earth with her. Screenwriter Audrey Wells changes things for Over the Moon from liquid to pills with Chang’e hiding two in her mouth before accidentally swallowing both. And while Fei Fei’s (Cathy Ang) mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) allows romance to color the woman’s reluctant ascent into space alone, her Auntie grins before saying it was all a greedy ploy. Stories transform to adhere to the purposes we bestow.

Since Fei Fei’s parents (rounded out by John Cho‘s father) own a bakery specializing in moon cakes for the annual festivities, hope must trump cynicism. Above being a bedtime fairy tale, this story has become a principle upon which they live their lives. And it makes sense that its idea of immortal true love would hit Fei Fei so profoundly during her youth with Mom and Dad epitomizing the concept’s admirable beauty every second they were together. Once we’re four years past her mother’s untimely death to illness, however, reality enters the equation in a way she never allowed herself to anticipate. Their shared life forever ensuring Mom’s spirit remained close by suddenly turns upside when Dad introduces Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh) with marriage proposal in the air.

On one side of the spectrum lies Chang’e waiting to be reunited with her true love. On the other is Fei Fei’s father willingly allowing another woman to take his supposed true love’s place. While it’s enough to increase any child’s mistrust and frustration in the world around them, not every child has the brains and wherewithal to merge myth with science in a bid to push those who’ve strayed back onto a righteous path. So Fei Fei doubles down. She refuses to accept Mrs. Zhong’s presence or that of her overzealous, Ping Pong-loving son Chin (Robert G. Chiu). She refuses to let any of the traditions her mother instilled within her home be replaced. And she commences work on a rocketship to prove Chang’e exists.

What follows during long-time Disney animator Glen Keane‘s feature directorial debut is Fei Fei’s adventures in space to that end as well as the parallel realization that love’s innate ability to evolve over time doesn’t mean its new target negates the old. As long as you allow yourself the capacity to love, you can have it all. Mrs. Zhong and Chin’s entrance into Fei Fei’s life isn’t therefore about subtracting her mother from the family, but adding them to sit down beside her. It’s a crucial message young children need to learn and an important component to dealing with death that depictions of it don’t always include. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. It means opening yourself up to experience what’s coming in tandem with what will never disappear.

It’s a lesson Fei Fei isn’t alone in needing as Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) herself has let the darkness of loss blind her from the light shining before her eyes. That of course means the two will eventually meet in the city of Lunaria on the Moon. Fei Fei will ask for a photograph to show her father than true love exists and Mrs. Zhong isn’t allowed to ruin it. Chang’e will ask for a gift she believes this girl has unwittingly brought. Rather than converse, share their stories of woe, and find a way forward, both characters embrace this impromptu, self-centered quid pro quo. Their picture and gift exchange metaphorically becomes Mom for Hou Yi (whatever Chang’e thinks Fei Fei brought should facilitate bringing him back to life).

Things become complicated once Chin reveals he’s also come along for the ride. Add Fei Fei’s bunny Bungie, Chang’e’s rabbit Jade, a trio of hulking biker chickens (glowing, orb-like creatures created from the Moon Goddess’ tears), and a lunar Chin surrogate in the exiled Gobi (Ken Jeong) and a race against time commences in brightly-colored, fast-paced fashion complete with a rousing soundtrack spanning pop genres (Soo practically gives a concert). That which had annoyed our dueling heroines proves invaluable to their subsequent progress and the despair of isolation risks walling both away from the obvious love they’ve been unable to let themselves receive. They’ll have to look within to see that what they want was there the whole time and what they didn’t was actually what they needed.

The result is familiar in its story beats yet fresh in its gorgeous aesthetic courtesy of a Chinese mythology filter. Lunaria is reminiscent to the Sugar Rush kingdom in Wreck-it Ralph thanks to moon cake guards and stardust citizens trying to help their queen see past her grief and recognize the life that still lies before her. Fei Fei has a bit of Vanellope von Schweetz to her too: stubborn, independent, and also endearingly full of compassion when the right scenario allows her to show it. When you pair Jeong and Chiu’s wonderful comic relief (proving two sidekicks might be better than one) with Ang and Soo’s heavier emotional conflicts, you can’t help but enjoy the effective way in which cast complements animation. It’s an adventure worth taking.

[1] Cr. NETFLIX © 2020
[2] (Pictured) “Chin” (voiced by Robert G. Chiu). Cr. NETFLIX © 2020
[3] (L-R) “Chin” (voiced by Robert G. Chiu), “Fei Fei”, (voiced by Cathy Ang), “Chang’e” (Voiced by Phillipa Soo), “Jade Rabbit” and “Lunettes”. Cr. NETFLIX © 2020

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