Glen Keane is back with his feature directorial debut, Over the Moon. You’ll know him as one of the key animators/character designers on several of the Disney Renaissance films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, etc. He is a hero of feature animation, and his skill is really present in Netflix’s newest animated picture. There are some interesting techniques used to illustrate the process of dealing with grief, but the story is completely overshadowed by how beautiful it is. Before we get into it, here’s a brief recap:
Young Fei Fei, four years after her mother’s death, meets her father’s girlfriend, Mrs. Zhong. Believing that he has forgotten how much he loved her mother, Fei Fei sets off to take a trip to the moon to prove that a story her mother used to tell– about the the goddess Chang’e, who lives on the surface of the moon– is real so that he will remember and leave Mrs. Zhong. Fei Fei and her new step-brother-to-be fly a homemade rocket and meet the great Chang’e.
Chang’e expects that Fei Fei has the mythical missing piece of her broken amulet that will bring her love back. Chang’e sets Fei Fei off to find the stone before her lover is gone forever. She competes with several moon creatures to find it. They make friends along the way, and ultimately get the amulet back to Chang’e. She learns, however, that her lover is truly gone forever, and that she must move on.
Fei Fei greets the goddess in the “chamber of exquisite sorrow,” and together they face their grief and learn to move one. Fei Fei returns to Earth, moves on, and embraces her new family.
The grief, while potentially relatable, feels inauthentic. We aren’t given enough time to feel the impact of Fei Fei’s loss. The imitation-Pixar introduction to the story is pretty empty overall. The story, while successfully adventurous, isn’t moving.
In addition, the culture is not depthfully explored either. I walked away feeling like I hadn’t learned a thing about Chinese traditions or storytelling. The setting was definitely represented in a Western mindset, with a particularly Western style of animation.
Beyond the trouble with the story or the representation, it is a gorgeous movie. Glen Keane is a master of character movement. From his work at Disney to his Oscar winning short films, Keane’s work has a special cartoon-realism that gives the people and creatures he draws so much life. The design for the characters in Over the Moon, while not very memorable, is quite solid. They’re shapely, they vary nicely, and they have so much room for expression– Fei Fei especially.
The colors and environments are pretty generic and flat. The spaces in Lumeria are sometimes exciting– the large color fields are unique if not a tiny-bit lazy. The moon city feels like a love-letter to Coco’s city of the dead, but doesn’t really have the same grandeur.
Addressing the music– good luck remembering any of the songs. The songs in the first act of the film seem like they’re trying too hard to sound like Disney music. They capture the feeling, but not the heart. The headlining song that introduces us to Chang’e is the one that will be stuck in your head. Incidentally, this is the worst song of the bunch. It is an overdrawn poppy light-show that you might expect immediately before the credits in a big-studio picture for unassuming children like The Emoji Movie. The visuals were great, but the song has such an awkward lyricism and such a monotonous rhythm compared to everything else. The performers give their all, but they don’t have a lot to work with in this movie.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should watch this, I think it really depends on your love of animation. If you’re studying the craftsmanship, you’ll likely have a blast. If you’re looking for a fun, exciting movie that adds something new to the medium, you might want to look elsewhere. A lot of things about this movie could have been much better– especially the story. To the average movie-watching crowd: I’d recommend this movie to you only if you’re running out of new films to see. I give Over the Moon a 2.5 out of 5.