Over the Moon earns the distinction of being Netflix’s first in-house animated feature, coordinated with Pearl, the Chinese animation studio responsible for Abomination. It’s a very Disneyesque film, considering it’s a musical sourced from an ancient fable — the story of Chinese moon goddess Chang’e — and directed by longtime Mouse House animator Glen Keane. With that medium-high cred behind the movie, does it stand above the usual kid-friendly fare?
The Gist: SPACE. It’s full of stars, but also full of emptiness, and somewhere in it is the Moon. All of it hangs above China, where Fei Fei (voice of Cathy Ang) lives with her mom (Ruthie Ann Miles) and dad (John Cho), making and selling moon cakes at a moon cake stand in an outdoor market. Her mother tells her the legend of Chang’e, who lost her archer-god lover and needs a thingy by a certain time to get him back or something — is it important? Who knows — but then falls ill. Poor Fei Fei is only eight when her mother dies.
Jump ahead to when Fei Fei is 12 and the sharpest kid in math class, a budding engineer with an affectionate eye for the big rock orbiting Earth. But now, Dad introduces her to his new girlfriend, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), and her son Chin (Robert G. Chiu), and his pet frog, and boy are there mixed feels. Actually, she’s not happy about any of it in any way, shape or form, especially Mrs. Zhong’s insistence on putting dates in moon cakes. SACRILEGE. Fei Fei is ridiculed for still believing in Chang’e at her age, which only fuels her convoluted reasoning for going to the moon to prove the goddess exists and help her get her lover back and prove love is forever and therefore Dad shouldn’t ever remarry? I think that’s it?
Anyway, Fei Fei builds a rocket, packs up her adorable pet bunny Bungee and blasts off. Of course, Chin stows away. Also of course, two flying red lions rescue her craft from a surely deadly plummet back to Earth, and escort her to Chang’e’s psychedelic moon city on the dark side, where neon-globule buildings don’t touch the ground and chickens rocket around on bubble bikes and something resembling a gummi hedgehog, Gobi (Ken Jeong), becomes her sidekick. Fei Fei has indeed shot through a rabbit hole to the moon, and Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) is a bit of a Mad Hatter, and I wonder if anyone on Earth realizes a 12-year-old just figured out how to get to the Moon?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Over the Moon is an Alice in Wonderlandish take on Moana or Coco, with a few Frozen ice-queen vibes from Chang’e and some “biker chicks” that my five-year-old said looked a helluva lot like Angry Birds.
Performance Worth Watching: Ang gives Fei Fei the spirited emo-pluckiness the character needs, and Cho is terrific as her kind, sensitive father.
Memorable Dialogue: Today in Fun With Decontextualization, Fei Fei’s auntie walks in the door and says, “Anybody order 12 big hairy crabs?”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: There’s prove-yourself effort all over Over the Moon, which surely wants to compete on a Pixar-Disney-Dreamworks level. It makes a bid for significance with plenty of splashy visuals, a big-hearted story and a couple sort-of-showstopping musical numbers, including a K-popped danceclub barnburner for Chang’e and an earnest follow-my dreams belter for Fei Fei. Oh, and a walloping table-tennis match between Chang’e and Chin, which your kid may beg you to rewind and watch again. (Mine did.)
It never truly achieves transcendence, though. The bunny, the frog, Gobi the gummi, the pending stepbrother, the “biker chicks” — all cute, mostly funny, all clutter in the path of Fei Fei’s shaky quest for, I dunno, truth? Her Moon Mom? A place to put her grief? Her fantastical journey becomes yet another MacGuffin chase and is kind of a disservice to the character, who exists in a place between scientific curiosity and magical wonder, childhood and adulthood. Credit it for striving to be something more complex than yet another coming-of-age story, but it’s ultimately unfocused, and lacks the emo-dramatic wallop it needs to stand with the big dogs. That’s a long way of saying it’s perfectly fine, but far-from-perfect. family entertainment.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Over the Moon has enough winning charm to overcome its flaws.