‘Over the Moon’ is an Underrated and Diverse Masterpiece

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“Over the Moon” (Courtesy Netflix)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Writer

 

Over the Moon” is the newest film collaboration between international Pearl Studio, Netflix Animation and Sony Pictures, and is a recent addition to the string of animated movie musicals set in a fantasy and designed for families. Though Netflix released this film in October of 2020 and I had seen it several times in the carousel of titles recommended to me, it wasn’t until this month that I finally sat down to watch it — and was truly glad I did.

Telling the Story

The movie opens on Fei Fei, a young girl living in China with her father after the passing of her mother, who had always told her the legend of the moon goddess Chang’e and her true love. When her father starts seeing another woman named Mrs. Zhong, Fei Fei decides to build a rocket to the moon to visit Chang’e in the hopes that she convince her father not to forget about Fei Fei’s mother. Throughout the journey with her soon-to-be step-brother Chin, Fei Fei learns to honor the past and the traditions she shared with her mother while opening her heart to family and love beyond.

Newcomer Cathy Ang voices the protagonist, backed by a star-studded cast featuring John Cho (father), Ruthie Ann Miles (mother) and Sandra Oh (Mrs. Zhong). The cast of characters is rounded out by Ken Jeong (Gobi), with Kimiko Glenn and Margaret Cho voicing Fei Fei’s aunties who gather for the annual Moon Festival. Finally, Broadway star Phillipa Soo voices the Moon Goddess Chang’e and sings one of the shows absolute bops, “Ultraluminary” — the number of times I’ve listened to it is embarrassing. 

As a musical, the show’s score and soundtrack are incredible. Ang sings Fei Fei’s powerful song “Rocket to the Moon,” and the heartbreaking “Love Someone New” with Soo. The music is supported by the insane animation of the show’s pivotal moments — the moon landing is hyperrealistic, the magical world of Chang’e is luminary and colorful, the chamber of exquisite sadness is chilling and honest. I felt nearly as though I couldn’t blink for fear I would miss a flying lion, an anthropomorphized mooncake, or simply a tender moment at the raucous family dinner table.

Shooting for the Moon 

Despite its outstanding qualities of being one of the few animated movie musicals outside of the Disney and Dreamworks monopoly — and featuring an all-Asian cast with some of the most talented names in television, film and theatre — “Over the Moon” is a rarity in its unpredictability. Maybe it was my own lack of understanding Chinese mythology from my place in Western culture, or perhaps it was just my own suspension of disbelief by the magic of the story, but I never knew what was coming next for Fei Fei and her brother Chin. I gasped aloud, cried several times and sat staring in disbelief at the film’s surprises. It is unlike any movie I have seen before, for all of these reasons.

I remained surprised after the movie when I opened IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes after watching to see if other people had the same reaction as I did. While Rotten Tomatoes gives “Over the Moon” an 81% Fresh rating on their Tomatometer, IMDb users only gave it 6.4 out of 10 stars. I wracked my brain for the possible reasons: the fact that the show was only released on Netflix and didn’t reach typical numbers for a box office film, the uniqueness of the film in its animation style and storytelling that wasn’t as easily watched by viewers, or the reality that it is a film following a young Chinese-American girl featuring an entire cast of AAPI performers during a movement to stop centuries of Asian hatred in our country. I don’t have the answers. 

Beyond these questions, however, I recommend this movie to anyone whose inner child falls head over heels for animated movie musicals like this one. “Over The Moon” makes a story of grief, adventure, vulnerability and family tangible to its audiences in settings outside the ones we usually see on screen.

“Over the Moon” is available to stream on Netflix.

 

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