The story behind the development of Netflix’s animation feature Over The Moon is both tragic and sincere. Its writer, Audrey Wells, who is best known for writing and directing the romantic Under the Tuscan Sun and penning the dramedy Shall We Dance starring Jennifer Lopez, passed away from cancer in 2018 before the film’s completion. That Audrey Wells wrote this film for her daughter and husband adds an extra poignancy and warmth to the proceedings. Over the Moon follows a young girl, Fei Fei, who, after her mother passes away, searches for the mythical goddess of the Moon, Chang’e, in the hopes of affirming her existence.
Animation veteran Glen Keane directs this visually stunning CG-animated musical, which resonates deeply. While there are loads of fun with fantastical creatures and tender musical compositions, the film serves as a guide for young kids and adults alike in dealing with grief and learning how to move on.
Young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) helps her mother (Ruthie Anne Miles) in their bakery to make mooncakes. As she grows older, her mother becomes more ill until she passes away unexpectantly. Four years later, Fei Fei comes home one day to find that her father (John Cho) is seeing a new woman, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), who has an energetic and often adorable young child Chin (Robert G. Chiu), and who annoys Fei Fei relentlessly. One night, when Fei Fei’s grandparents and aunts come over for dinner, Fei Fei is surprised to learn that no one at the table believes in Chang’e, and even her father has begun to move past the stories. So Fei Fei decides to build a rocket to the moon to bring back photographic proof that Chang’e exists. If her mother believed in the stories, then there must be some truth.
When Fei Fei reaches the moon and an illustrious palace, she finds The Moon Goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), who is extraordinarily talented yet heartbroken. She instructs Fei Fei to find a gift that will help bring her lover Houyi (Conrad Ricamora) back. What plays out is an adventurous voyage as Fei Fei searches for unspecific material in exchange for photographic proof of Chang’e’s existence. Fei Fei grapples with her understanding of how to move forward in life. With the help of an adorable canine Gobi (Ken Jeong), Chin, and a lovestruck bunny rabbit, she finds a way to hold her mother close to her heart while allowing new relationships to form.
Glen Keane is an animation extraordinaire, having created Disney’s Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and he recently won an Oscar for best short with Dear Basketball, which the late Kobe Bryant wrote. Keane’s animation ranges from a Chinese town grounded in sumptuous CG to otherworldly species bouncing to Chang’e’s songs in various colors. His vision is spectacular. It’s easy to be captivated by the giant frogs floating through space as though they’re clouds themselves. The story does skew in simplicity to cater to a younger audience. Still, the visuals never cease to amaze, making Over the Moon a worthy contender for this year’s awards season.
Fei Fei’s story is heartbreaking, and the final act challenges this young girl to open her heart to a reinterpretation of her family without forgetting her mother. Fei Fei’s relationship with Chin evolves to the point where their union is tear-jerking, and in the final act, he will break through any walls to save her. The original songs are written by a fantastic combination of Broadway stars, including Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park. The numbers are widespread across genres and help to texturize the film. Some underscore more wrenching moments with lyrics that strike deeply, while tunes like the Lady Gaga-styled pop track ‘Ultraluminary’ are energetic, catchy, and gloriously performed by Hamilton alum Phillipa Soo.
At one point, Fei Fei and the luminous green canine Gobi (Ken Jeong) catch a ride through space via oversized amphibians. Fei Fei darkens under the weight of not accomplishing her objective, and Gobi sings to her that ‘If you release the past, you’ll move ahead and bloom at last. The heart grows, and it knows you can glow. You’re wonderful.’ It is an unexpected joy of the film that, in its quieter moments, the songs can resonate loudly and highlight why Over the Moon is a beautiful legacy to behold.