Film Review: Over the Moon
Over the Moon
Directors: Glen Keane and John Kahrs
Pearl Studios and Glen Keane Productions
In Theaters and Streaming on Netflix: 10.23
One of the most overused phrases in my reviews this year—and I’ve certainly had a few—is, “the animation isn’t exactly Pixar quality.”
I’m not going to say that this time.
Over the Moon is the story of Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang), a young Chinese girl who lives an idyllic childhood with her father and mother, who delight their daughter with fanciful stories of Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. But when Fei Fei’s mother passes away due to illness, her happy world is changed forever. What’s more, Fei Fei learns to her horror that her father (voiced by John Cho, Star Trek) plans to remarry a woman with a weird little boy named Chin (Robert G. Chiu). Fei Fei is determined to stop this and builds a rocket ship to the moon to seek out the legendary Chang’e. She embarks on a magical journey and learns more than she ever bargained for about life, the universe and everything.
Glen Keane, son of The Family Circus creator Bil Keane, is a longtime Disney animator and Academy Award winner for the short Dear Basketball. Like Don Bluth, who gave us The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail, the younger Keane has set out on his own to create new wonders. Along with his co-director, John Kahrs, he has created a gorgeous visual marvel that rivals some of Pixar’s work and is stunning to behold.
The voice cast is wonderful, showcasing the immense talents of Hamilton‘s Phillipa Soo as Chang’e. Soo shines luminously, making up for the nothing role she was relegated to in The Broken Hearts Gallery, and in general, the singing cast is spectacular. And while some of the songs are better than others, the overall mix works very well. Ang anchors the movie with her lovable performance as Fei Fei, with Ken Jeong ably lending support as the Happy Meal toy character Gobi. But it’s the rambunctious Chin who is the breakout character, and he really made the movie for me.
The screenplay by the late Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Hate U Give) is ambitious and struggles with cohesiveness just a little in the midsection, but it’s a heartfelt and imaginative story. The film also deserves props for being set in China, telling a uniquely Chinese story and actually bothering to do so with appropriate voice casting. The musical score by Steven Price (Oscar winner for Gravity) is at times rousing, and at others, softly enchanting. The songs by Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield and Helen Park range from pure ’90s Disney to stadium dance-pop, but the compilation works better than you might expect it to. Though the more Broadway style songs, especially “Rocket to the Moon,” beautifully performed by Ang, seem more like potential Oscar contenders.
While it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of recent animated musicals such as Coco, this movie did succeed at making me cry honest tears. It’s a triumphant debut feature and a strong indicator that Glen Keane Productions is a major new force in the world of animated films. This a family movie to be celebrated and enjoyed, and you’ve got multiple options on how to do so. So grab the kids and settle in, whether it’s in a socially distanced theater or the comfort of your home, and get ready for blast off. –Patrick Gibbs