“Over the Moon,” directed by Glen Keane and John Kahrs, follows a creative young girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang, “Ramy”) who, out of a yearning for her late mother (Ruthie Ann Miles, “The Americans”), embarks on a journey to the moon in hopes of finding the mythical goddess, Chang’e (Phillipa Soo, “Hamilton”).
The movie opens with a sequence introducing Fei Fei, who lives happily with her parents as they prepare to celebrate the Moon Festival. Fei Fei’s mom tells her the story of Chang’e, an immortal moon goddess who longs for her one true love. This introductory section soon falls into an all too familiar trope: Fei Fei’s mom falls ill and dies. Years later, on the night of another Moon Festival, much to Fei Fei’s disappointment and anger, her father (John Cho, “Searching”) brings home his fiancé, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”), and her son Chin (Robert G Chiu, “Albert”). Fei Fei is dismissive of both of them, viewing their presence as her father’s betrayal of her mom.
After an unsuccessful dinner of being teased by her family for believing in Chang’e, Fei Fei throws herself into the task of finding Chang’e and proving her existence in the hopes of stopping her father from remarrying. Because of its predictability and how quickly all of this is established, the rest of the story feels underdeveloped and formulaic.
This isn’t to say that “Over the Moon” isn’t enjoyable. The visuals are beautiful and surely one of the film’s strengths. Once Fei Fei arrives on the moon, the story really takes off. She is taken to a place called Lunaria, where there are lions and brightly colored talking mooncakes and, of course, Chang’e. After a fantastical musical number, Fei Fei finally meets Chang’e, but the meeting isn’t exactly what Fei Fei had hoped for. Chang’e demands that Fei Fei bring her the one gift that she needs to be reunited with her soulmate, but Fei Fei has no clue what that gift is. This launches her into the second part of her journey, to find the gift that Chang’e speaks of and restore her true love.
The film deals with themes that have definitely been seen in animated movies before: loss, love and family. For Fei Fei, the story of Chang’e means that true love never dies, a message she fears her father has forgotten. What Fei Fei learns throughout her journey is that no matter what, there will always be love for her mother, and that she will never be forgotten.
Though “Over the Moon” has strong visuals and a sweet message, it fails to meet the standard of a Disney/Pixar film. While its brightly-colored moon setting and characters should be a success with its younger audience, it doesn’t add anything new to the genre. Films like “Coco” and “Frozen” both tell stories of dealing with loss, but through a more developed plot and with better constructed characters. If this was an attempt by Netflix to break into the genre that Disney has always dominated, then it doesn’t quite get there.
At the end of the movie, after Fei Fei has returned from the moon, there is a clear change in her perspective. Time has passed and her father has remarried, and at the next Moon Festival Fei Fei is happier and willing to welcome new people into her family. A very quick moment at dinner shows Fei Fei helping her grandfather from across the table, and though it may seem insignificant, it shows a heartwarming change in how she views her family. She has learned how to cope with her grief in a healthy way, and finds comfort in honoring her mother’s memory. Even though it’s a story we’ve seen before, “Over the Moon” does manage to deliver it with grace.
Daily Arts Writer Judith Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.