(2020) (voices of Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo) (PG)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Computer-Animated Musical: A girl sets off for the moon to prove not only that an immortal goddess is real, but also that love continues after death, all to prevent her widowed father from forgetting his late wife and remarrying.
Fei Fei (voice of BRYCEN TAYLOR HALL) is a young girl who lives in a Japanese town with her parents, Ba Ba (voice of JOHN CHO) and Ma Ma (voice of RUTHIE ANN MILES) and enjoys repeatedly hearing the legend of Chang'e who gained immortality but in doing so lost her lover, Houyi, only to ascend to the moon where she's longed for him ever since.
Fei Fei's parents run a small restaurant that sells mooncakes -- especially during the annual Moon Festival -- and everything seems perfect for them. But then Ma Ma gets sick, eventually passes away, and now four years later Fei Fei (voice of CATHY ANG) still grieves for her mother while taking her place in the mooncake shop.
Thus, she's shocked to learn that her dad has a girlfriend in Mrs. Zhong (voice of SANDRA OH), and it doesn't help that her hyperactive 8-year-old son, Chin (voice of ROBERT F. CHIU), is an irritant to Fei Fei. In a mixed moment of desperation and inspiration, the girl figures that if she can somehow get to the moon to prove that Chang'e exists and that one doesn't give up on love, then her dad won't forget her mom and then marry Zhong.
Through determination, smarts, and some luck, Fei Fei manages to get to the moon, but isn't happy to discover Chin as her surprise stowaway. They eventually meet Chang'e (voice of PHILLIPA SOO), who's a cross between the queen of Lunaria and a diva pop star. But that woman expects an unspecified gift from them in exchange for photographic proof she exists for Fei Fei's dad.
The girl then sets out to find that unknown thing and ends up getting help from a court castaway, the chatty and effervescent Gobi (voice of KEN JEONG). With everyone else from Lunaria also trying to find the mysterious gift, Fei Fei must pull out all the stops to beat them to it and eventually return to Earth to convince her dad to remember and never stop loving her mom.
- OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I've never done any sort of psychological deep dive into why so many fictional offerings aimed at kids involve young protagonists who've suffered a past or current loss of one or more parents, but I'm guessing child psychologists and others have heavily researched the storytelling phenomenon.
If I had to guess beyond the sad obvious fact that some kids do experience that in real life, it boils down to those who haven't worrying about that happening one day to them. In fact, it's such an ingrained fear that it continues into adulthood as one's parents age.
And by tapping into that reality or fear, storytellers can more easily draw in their young (and older) viewers to the story at hand. While they're far from alone in doing so, Disney has been using that formula ever since the days of Snow White and Bambi up through last year's Pixar release of "Onward," a recent Golden Globe nominee for Best Animated Film.
Interestingly enough, all of the recent Globes' nominees in that category feature parents who have passed on, ranging from the adult jazz pianist's dad in "Soul," the young wolf hunter apprentice's mom in "Wolfwalkers," both of the outsider caveman's parents in "The Croods: A New Age" and the young girl's mother in "Over the Moon."
That last film has the look, feel, sound, and soul of a Disney animated flick but is actually a Netflix offering. With gorgeous animation, catchy and soaring musical numbers, comedic sidekicks, and more, it has the Disney blueprint down to a T, including, yes, the death of a parent.
None of which is meant disparagingly as the offering is highly satisfying, entertaining, and a deeper dive into loss than those other films or many of their predecessors. And that starts right away in the script from the late Audrey Wells where a young girl, Fei Fei, wants to hear her mother once again tell the story of Chang'e who became immortal, lost the love of her life in the process, and now lives on the moon longing for her long-lost love.
At this point, Fei Fei has both of her parents (voiced by Ruthie Ann Miles and John Cho) who make a living selling mooncakes in a Japanese town. But then tragedy strikes as we witness through a montage the mother falling ill, getting worse, and then being gone, devastating the husband and especially the young girl.
Flash forward four years and our protagonist (now voiced by Cathy Ang) is stunned to learn that her father is now interested in another woman (Sandra Oh) who's anything but the usual bad stepmother in waiting type. Nonetheless, and with her hyper 8-year-old son Chin (Robert. Chiu) only adding to the girl's misery, Fei Fei wants no part of this new arrangement.
And thus, she decides in a moment of lunar-inspired inspiration that if she can somehow get to the moon, find Chang'e, and prove that love never dies, then her dad will certainly stop this potential remarrying nonsense.
Using her smarts, she manages to get there, albeit with a stowaway in Chin, and it's not long before they encounter Chang'e (Phillipa Soo) in all her queen meets pop diva glory as she belts out the memorable pop tune "Ultraluminary." Fei Fei is excited to meet her, but then realizes she must bring a non-specified gift to her in exchange for a photo of them together as proof to dear old dad.
That leads to encounters with other magical beings and interesting characters, including a trio of biker "chicks" and an effervescent glowing blob known as Gobi (Ken Jeong) who's clearly molded along the lines of the friendly chatterbox sidekicks most recently epitomized by Olaf the snowman in the "Frozen" flicks.
Despite that and all the rest of the similarities to elements from the Disney animated playbook, this film from co-directors Glen Keane and John Kahrs stands on its own and works quite well, certainly more than capable of entertaining, delighting, and even occasionally emotionally moving kids and adults alike. You might just end up over the moon about "Over the Moon." I know I did and thus rate the film a 7 out of 10 score.
Reviewed February 4, 2021 / Posted February 5, 2021
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