Over the Moon (2020)

“It’s not a silly myth. It’s real.”

Gorgeously animated, ornately representative of Asian culture, and at times frustratingly too familiar, Over the Moon is a loving and lavish space endeavor hindered by fuel sources and set pieces that are simply too common. It’s a potluck affair, borrowing from movies here and ancient tales there, and lacks the clear vision to make them into something entirely unique or different. That it still works – that it’s still such an emotional rollercoaster ride about growing up and learning how to grieve great loss – is a testament to the deeply human foundation at the heart of this above average animation. A lack of originality keeps this exosphere adventure tethered to the troposphere. It’s hard for this head in the clouds to achieve takeoff.

Stubborn, smart, and a fully realized depiction of a young dreamer and doer, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) spends most of her time experimenting in the STEM field through trial and error. She’s more comfortable in her head than she is out in the vast, tragic world she’s experienced after the passing of her late mother. Following a few very truncated scenes, and obviously deeply inspired by Up’s opening sequence, it’s clear that Fei Fei’s old enough, mature enough, and ambitious enough to chart her own course. And while it’s all too clumsily executed, Over the Moon still uses its characters and its circumstance to inflict and to share goodness. It’s hopeful, kind, majestic. The common conventions are elevated by the uncommonly incredible imagery.

Her father (John Cho) starts seeing a new woman, whose son Chin (Robert G. Chiu) annoys Fei Fei to her wits end, and her refusal to accept them leads her to drastic measures. She’ll shoot for the moon, setting out to prove the mythical Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) to be real, hoping to come back with evidence that the lovelorn figure exists. That true love is a one time deal. Over the Moon becomes a visual feast when she defiantly makes her way to the cold rock, popping with colors and Asian designs, and the harsh Chang’e is dressed from head to toe in the kind of costume design – from the legendary fashion icon Guo Pei – that’d be nominated for an Oscar had this been a live-action film. The story itself becomes a little loose though, as Chang’e demands a token gift to reunite her with her long lost love, and the movie spirals for a while trying to catch up. It’s like a minor fusion of Inside Out meets Coco.

Over the Moon is a movie that works incredibly well when it strives to depict a unique, Asian inspired experience. However, it unfortunately tends to be one that simply does not resonate or register nearly as original as one might hope. The storytelling just mirrors the formulaic beats of Pixar classics too much, oftentimes even feeling as though parts were literally copied and pasted (I’m looking at Ken Jeong’s voicing of Gobi, a clear ripoff of Richard Kind’s emotional Bing Bong). The ambitious script, blending fantasy and drama and a few awkward musical numbers, is more inspired than it is inspiring, and yet it’s elevated by director Glen Keane’s graceful touch. Over the Moon has the great effects of a Pixar or Dreamworks animation, but there’s human poetry to its motion, and Keane’s deep experience with Disney’s finely hand drawn films comes through in the more intimate moments, imbuing 21st century art with more pragmatic sensibilities. Over the Moon never lives up to the promise of its ambitious title, but it looks great and makes its message heard, and is easily 2020’s best animated film thus far.

“We’re the last true believers.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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