Netflix review: Eye-catching 'Over the Moon' brings Chinese legend to colorful life

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 01 2020 06:05 AM

A scene from 'Over the Moon.' Handout

"Over the Moon" is a computer-animated film produced by Netflix Animation (American) and Pearl Studios (Chinese). The Chinese legend about Chang'e had been developed into this screenplay by Audrey Wells, who had unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 2018. Director Glen Keane had been an animator involved in Disney films from "The Little Mermaid" to "Tangled." "Over the Moon" is Keane's first full-length directorial work. Keane recently won an Oscar for the animated short film "Dear Basketball" (2017) with the late Kobe Bryant.

Spirited teenager Fei Fei had been in mourning for four years already following a family tragedy. However, while her family was ready to move on, she still could not accept the inevitable changes about to come into her life. She was also disappointed that legends about the Moon Goddess Chang'e she held dear in her childhood had all been forgotten at her home. Because of this, Fei Fei was determined to build a rocket to bring her to the moon to prove that Chang'e really existed. 

The voice cast for this production was predominantly Asian-American. Most notably, the main character of Chang'e was voiced by Chinese-American Broadway sensation Phillipa Soo, who broke through into mainstream stardom as Eliza Schuyler in mega-hit show "Hamilton." Korean-American actors John Cho and Ruthie Ann Miles voiced Fei Fei's parents, Baba and Mama. Other actors of Korean descent in the cast were Margaret Cho (as the romantic Auntie Ling), Sandra Oh (as Mrs. Zhong, the mother of mischievous little boy Chin) and Ken Jeong (as a green gelatinous glowworm named Gobi). 

The remarkable discovery here is 25-year old Cathy Ang who voiced the protagonist Fei Fei. Ang was born in the US to Filipino-Chinese parents who were both doctors from UST in the Philippines. Her speaking voice was very perky and expressive, while her singing voice was so delightfully Disney-esque. This was an auspicious feature film debut for this impressive young talent. Another Filipino-American talent in the cast is Glenn Ricamora, who voiced the smaller role of Houyi, the archer husband whom Chang'e longed to reunite with.

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Even if this film was set in contemporary times, the central story and animation are very rich in Chinese culture and aesthetics. Aside from the legend of Chang'e and how she became the Moon Goddess, there were little details about the Mid-Autumn Festival, the moon cakes and the family gathering together for a special dinner while admiring the bright round full moon. 

The artwork for animals were very cute, like Bungee the bunny, or elegant, like the white egret on the waterway. The beautiful traditional gowns of Chang'e were very gracefully rendered.

Midway through, there would be a radical shift of setting, pace and artistic theme to more whimsical modern sci-fi designs, all bursting with bright neon colors. Young kids will definitely enjoy the gleefully imaginative rainbow-colored imagery in this frenetic part of the film, like Chang'e grand entrance, chickens on motorbikes, flying lions, a celestial ping-pong match, or that mad scramble to possess a precious item. The dramatic scenes were also very effectively executed like the reunion scene as well the scene in the Chamber of Exquisite Sadness. 

The songs had catchy poppy tunes which would be fun to listen to again and again. The story of moving on after a family tragedy may be very familiar dramatic terrain, but it was tackled here with bold eye-catching artwork and genuinely moving sentiments. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."