Animation film “Over the Moon”, which was released on Netflix in last October, is so familiar and predictable to the core that my mind often went somewhere outside the film throughout its 100-minute running time. Although it initially draws our attention via its distinctive cultural mood and details, the film unfortunately falters more than once because of its weak plot and mediocre characterization, and it eventually comes to leave pretty hollow impressions on us on the whole.
The story of the film mainly revolves around Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang), a perky 13-year-old Chinese girl who still dearly holds herself to the memories of her dead mother and an old folk tale which her mother used to tell her. Long time ago, Chang’e (voiced by Phillipa Soo), the mythical goddess of the Moon, was fallen in love with some dashing human dude, but, alas, they were eventually separated due to his death, and that certainly devastated her a lot. According to the folk tale, Chang’e is still waiting for the return of her true love in her lunar kingdom even at present, and that certainly resonates a lot with Fei Fei, who still misses her mother every day even though she and her father have moved on as managing their little moon cake shop together during last several years.
When the Moon Festival is about to begin, Fei Fei is naturally excited about another wonderful evening with the big moon in the sky, but there comes a change she does not welcome that much. Although he does not forget his dead wife at all, her father has recently become quite close to some other woman, and this woman is willing to marry and then live with him in addition to being eager to be a good stepmother for Fei Fei, but Fei Fei is understandably displeased with this unexpected change in her life – especially after encountering her future stepmother’s rather obnoxiously rambunctious son Chin (voiced by Robert G. Chiu).
Subsequently watching her future stepmother being openly accepted by her father’s colorful family members during a family dinner, Fei Fei becomes sullener and more exasperated than before, but then she comes to have one bold idea. If she goes to the Moon and then proves the existence of Chang’e to her father, he may have a second thought on his upcoming marriage, and things will probably remain same as before for her and her father.
Now this sounds very preposterous to say the least, but the screenplay by late Audrey Wells, which was subsequently augmented with the additional materials from Alice Wu and Jennifer Yee McDevitt, takes some leaps of faith as expected from its modern fantasy setting. For going to the Moon, Fei Fei promptly embarks on building a rocket, and, believe or not, everything including a spacesuit and a helmet comes pretty quick and handy to her as she builds the rocket step by step without telling anyone about that. She also needs to find something powerful enough to catapult her rocket all the way to the Moon, and, what do you know, there is a maglev train rail which has just been installed outside her town.
You will probably observe Fei Fei’s attempt with understandable skepticism like I did during my viewing, but Fei Fei manages to get her rocket launched in the end, and her rocket quickly sends her and her pet rabbit into the space, though it turns out that there are two major setbacks. She belatedly discovers that Chin sneaked into her rocket along with his pet frog, and then they get caught by two big space creatures, which promptly take them to a huge magical place located somewhere on the Moon.
Of course, this magical place turns out to belong to none other than Chang’e herself, who gives Chin and Fei Fei quite an impression via performing a big musical number in front of her audiences, who are mostly small and big colorful entities looking indistinguishable from each other except their body colors. Like these entities, the magical kingdom of Chang’e feels so flat and abstract in terms of shapes and colors that you may wonder whether the crew members of the film had some budget or creativity problem during the production period.
Anyway, Chang’e later demands a certain unspecified gift which Fei Fei is supposed to give to her, and the second half of the film follows Fei Fei’s subsequent adventure for finding and then giving whatever Chang’e wants, but director Glen Keane and his crew members fail to generate enough sense of wonder and excitement for this part. While a part involved with a trio of entities looking like big humanoid chickens feels flat and pedestrian despite lots of actions on the scene, the introduction of a supporting character voiced by Ken Jeong is more or less than an afterthought which remains woefully underdeveloped, and the same thing can be said about a few subplots including the one involved with an unexpected relationship between Fei Fei’s pet rabbit and a creature working under Chang’e. As a result, what is being at stakes for the main characters feel rather inconsequential, and we come to observe them and their story without much care and attention – even during the expected feel-good finale.
Anyway, the main cast members try their best in their fairly commendable voice acting. While Cathy Ang and Phillipa Soo wield their respective musical talents from time to time, Robert G. Chiu and Ken Jeong provide some humor to the film as required, and John Cho, Margaret Cho, and Sandra Oh dutifully fill their thankless roles.
Although it is fairly watchable at times, “Over the Moon”, which incidentally got Oscar-nominated a few weeks ago, is still dissatisfying because of its evident lack of strong character and narrative. In short, this is a passable but ultimately forgettable piece of work, and I would rather recommend to you its more distinguished fellow nominees including “Soul” (2020) and “Wolfwalkers” (2020) instead.