It’s onerous to observe Netflix’s shiny new animated characteristic Over the Moon with out feeling a minimum of a bit suspicious about a few of its story selections. An achingly emotional musical a few Chinese language woman who chases a legend in a misguided try to respect her mom’s reminiscence, Over the Moon performs like a variant on Pixar’s Coco, a equally family-focused story that foregrounds a collection of cultural specifics in a approach Western animation hasn’t seen earlier than. In Coco, it’s Mexican tradition and the Day of the Lifeless celebration; in Over the Moon, it’s Chinese language tradition, the Mid-Autumn Competition, and the traditions surrounding it. Over the Moon revels in its cultural touchstones, from mooncakes to fu canine to the pointed symbolism of a white crane. However a number of the creators’ larger selections really feel like a Western try to run down a guidelines of recognizable Chinese language cultural touchstones, in a approach that feels concurrently off-base for the story, and condescending to viewers.
Longtime Disney animator Glen Keane, making his directing debut right here, opens Over the Moon when protagonist Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) remains to be a small little one, wrapped up in her household’s heat, devoted embrace. Her Ma Ma (Ruthie Ann Miles) and Ba Ba (John Cho) inform her the story of Chang’e, the immortal girl who lives a lonely life on the moon, having left her mortal lover Houyi (Conrad Ricamora) behind on Earth millennia in the past. The opening strongly mimics the start of Frozen 2, the place the protagonists’ mom equally delivers a musical fable that they’ll must probe for themselves after they’re older. However the story goes on to reflect Pixar’s Up as properly, as Ma Ma sickens and dies, leaving Fei Fei and her father to mourn.
Years later, as Fei Fei is an adolescent, nonetheless cheerfully making and delivering mooncakes for the household bakery, her father comes residence with a brand new love curiosity, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh) and her rambunctious child Chin (Robert G. Chiu), who cheerfully tells Fei Fei that their dad and mom are planning to marry, and he’s about to develop into her sister. (How Fei Fei was fully unaware of the romance, and even Mrs. Zhong’s existence, is one in all many components Over the Moon zips previous on its option to larger emotional drama.) Damage and indignant by the concept of her mom’s reminiscence being eclipsed, Fei Fei units out to construct a rocket to the moon, the place she hopes to show that Chang’e is actual, and nonetheless ready for Houyi to hitch her. With a baby’s impeccably ridiculous, outsized logic, Fei Fei has satisfied herself that proving the fairy story is actual will present her father that real love by no means dies, so he ought to dedicate himself to his lifeless spouse’s reminiscence as an alternative of shifting on.
What follows is a rambunctious journey, as Fei Fei, her pet bunny Bungee (a personality seemingly designed solely to promote lovable plush toys), and Chin (who one way or the other not solely stows away on Fei Fei’s teeny ship, however manages to tug collectively a spacesuit for himself) head to the moon to satisfy Chang’e and wind up on a wild McGuffin chase. The moon, it seems, is filled with glowing creatures of varied sorts — the proper excuse for a lot of, many pictures of light-up raves (shades of Trolls: World Tour), wild motion sequences, and quiet, dreamy contemplations of mortality. Disney films are stuffed with lifeless moms whose absence pushes protagonists to early independence, however Over the Moon offers with loss of life and childhood grief with a frankness and thoroughness that normally solely involves the forefront in Pixar movies. It’s a calculated tear-jerker that doesn’t take parental loss calmly.
However it could be too calculated. Fei Fei is superbly animated. She’s an expressive, charismatic character who stands out in an animation business that’s been gradual to place Asian characters in lead roles in any films, not to mention kids’s animated options. It’s simple to fall into the vivid depths of the feelings she wears on her sleeves. However all the pieces about her grief and anger feels prefer it’s been fastidiously calculated on the Pixar-ometer. Over the Moon appears to borrow a good bit of its visible inspiration from the luminous jewel-tone animation of Pixar’s Inside Out, and Fei Fei’s unhappiness and the movie’s total emotional messages observe in the identical footsteps.
And Chin is a loud, spherical, eager-beaver kind who feels so much like a youthful model of Russell in Up. Longtime animation followers are prone to make their approach via Over the Moon mentally counting the issues they’ve seen earlier than in different films, whether or not it’s Fei Fei’s moon launch (paying homage to the rocket escape in Inside Out) or her newfound amiable-but-doofy moon-companion Gobi (Ken Jeong), who’s half Olaf from the Frozen franchise, half Bing Bong from Inside Out.
Then there are the movie’s distracting components and sidebars, which really feel like they have been designed to let Chinese language viewers really feel seen, however simply really feel like a Western try to curry favor with a particular demographic with out going previous surface-level signifiers. The most important shock is an out-of-nowhere ping-pong match that’s performed for enormous drama — it will get its personal large manufacturing quantity, full with rap lyrics — regardless that it issues not a whit to the story. So far as the animation goes, it’s an exhilarating, energetic sequence, however the best way it’s crammed into the narrative is deeply questionable.
The choice to type Chang’e as a contemporary C-pop idol equally allows a sensational tune sequence (albeit one paying homage to Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi’s “Not Evil” from Lego Film 2), however raises some unusual story questions, given what number of conflicting personalities Chang’e oscillates via over the movie’s operating time. It’s one factor for a seeming ally to disclose a darkish agenda, or for a villain to melt right into a buddy as a narrative goes on, however Chang’e not often appears to be the identical individual from scene to scene in Over the Moon.
All that drops by the wayside when the movie costs into its motion, or settles into its softer emotions. The moon’s visible aesthetic is kind of “childhood bed room filled with comforting glow-lamps,” and Fei Fei and Chin’s adventures there are fast-paced and frenetic, with loads of cute-animal antics, goofy kid-friendly moments, dramatic reversals of destiny, and a comforting emotional core. A number of the moon creatures really feel like they might use one other move from the design staff — a trio who appear like Indignant Birds are central to 1 motion sequence, and it’s fairly bizarre that half of Chang’e’s private servants are literally strolling, speaking mooncakes, as if Chinese language mythology wasn’t totally full of fascinating and eerie creatures that may have been helpful inspiration as an alternative. However the total look of the film is gorgeous, for its vivid colours and well-defined motion, its vastly wealthy aesthetic and inventive engagement. Even when not one of the feelings totally landed, this might nonetheless be a movie for animation followers to review only for the imagery.
As an alternative, Over the Moon’s emotional journey is stable and well-expressed. Once more, it attracts on calculated iconography — there’s a short hair-cutting sequence that feels prefer it’s each acknowledging Mulan’s most famous moment, and repudiating it — and makes use of on Chinese language artwork and folklore for inspiration. However Fei Fei’s emotional journey is a common story about feeling ache and studying to maneuver on, about how love and located household assist ease the sting of loss. It’s unquestionably sentimental, with emotional beats designed to wring tears out of an viewers at fastidiously spaced moments.
It’s efficient, although, not simply because Fei Fei’s feelings are so strongly and clearly expressed, however as a result of they’re labored into the story in such a resonant approach. Too lots of Pixar’s followers have tried to tag an enormous emotional second onto the top of an in any other case gentle journey, in the hunt for pathos and gravitas, however Over the Moon defines Fei Fei’s quest via her emotions, and lets audiences expertise what she’s feeling all through.
Over the Moon might in the end be an vital film for Chinese language youngsters craving, like everybody else, to see variations of themselves onscreen in significant, energetic, highly effective roles. Actually that’s what Netflix and Keane are capturing for, as they steep the film in components meant to evoke recognition and enthusiasm, from household gatherings stuffed with very particular meals and faces (and household dynamics that hearken again to Lulu Wang’s unbeatable drama The Farewell) to tiny touches like Fei Fei’s after-school bubble tea.
However simply as importantly, the movie makes its approach fastidiously and lovingly via messages designed to succeed in the most important potential viewers, on condition that sorrow and longing are such common experiences. The film’s missteps solely rankle as a result of they add such forgettable components to a film that may in any other case be an unforgettable a part of the animated canon.
Over the Moon is streaming on Netflix now.