The first thing that strikes you about Over the Moon is the astronomical, outstanding quality of the animation on display. Within the first two minutes, a giant space dog is bounding across the night sky, taking chunks out of the moon with his teeth. It’s a visually stunning opening and plays to what is easily the film’s greatest strength. Lifted by a dazzling colour palette and some fine voice work, Over the Moon just about compensates for a story that feels anything but out of this world.
The second film from China’s Pearl Studio after 2019’s Abominable sees them swap collaborators from Dreamworks to Netflix, but they tread on similar grounds to last year’s fluffy family adventure. Fourteen-year-old Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) builds a rocket so she can travel to the moon and visit the moon goddess, Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), who she has believed in ever since her mother told her the story as a child. When she gets there, she finds the goddess stricken with sadness as she mourns her lover Houyi. Before she can return home, and with her new step-brother Chin (Robert G. Chiu) for company, she has to help mend the goddess’ broken heart.
The animators get ample opportunity to showcase their talents, be it in the small details or the vivid colours of the goddess’ domain. If anything, sometimes it is almost too vivid. The blinding colours of the lions, in particular, coming as a slight shock to the system. It is instead in the smaller details that the depth of the artistry is most apparent. Fei Fei’s pet rabbit, in particular, demonstrates this. While serving no particular purpose other than highlighting the similarities between her and the goddess, it’s blessed with sensational detail. It’s also remarkably expressive, more so in fact than most of the characters. Over the Moon proves to be a colourful, wild ride that is especially guaranteed to entertain younger viewers.
Sadly, what stops Over the Moon from being truly memorable is the story. It just comes across as being too formulaic to feel unique. There are some nice touches, however, when the story is still on Earth. How family is communicated and formed through food, and the detail given to the story of Chang’e, among other things. Thankfully, Chang’e’s characterisation is more ambiguous than most family films would allow for. She’s more driven by grief than being drawn as a straight-up good or bad character.
Unfortunately, the bare bones of the plot feel far too familiar to anyone already seasoned by the many decades of Disney releases. What doesn’t help is that the script (written by the late Audrey Wells, to whom the film is dedicated) is littered with moments of clunky, predictable dialogue. It is especially obvious during Fei Fei’s early interactions with Chin, which feel too clumsy to be funny.
The cast, however, make the most of what they have been given. Ang is on stellar form as Fei Fei, capturing just the right levels of magic and heartbreak as she goes on her journey. The highlight however arguably comes from Ken Jeong’s character Gobi. Jeong is on fire, lacing almost every single line with the potential to trigger infectious laughs. They all excel in the musical numbers, which – while unlikely to linger in the mind for long afterwards – consistently hit the mark in the moment. The musical highlight comes towards the end when the goddess risks being consumed by sadness, just one moment where the film tries to pull the heartstrings and more or less succeeds.
Over the Moon is pretty run-of-the-mill, but manages to be more than your average animated adventure. As a slice of uplifting, moving escapism, you could do a lot worse. It’s a movie that lifts you to the moon and back in a dazzling display of lights. You can only wish that there was just slightly more going on underneath all the theatrics.
Words by James Hanton.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.