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Movie review: “Over the Moon” fails to shine but manages to share feel-good message

(Courtesy of Netflix)

"Over the Moon"

Directed by Glen Keane and John Kahrs

Netflix

Friday

By Hannah Ferguson

Oct. 23, 2020 3:39 p.m.

“Over the Moon” doesn’t quite land among the stars, but it does offer a heartwarming story about family and love.

Netflix’s newest animated film releases on Oct. 23, just weeks after this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. The film tells the story of the young protagonist Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) who builds a rocket to meet the moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo). In addition to its multilayered symbolism, luminescent animation and musical variety, “Over the Moon” relies on simple but effective tropes to discuss the overcoming of grief and love’s ability to transcend lifetimes.

[Related: Movie review: ‘Rebecca’ falls short in character, plot development despite strong visuals]

Fei Fei’s journey begins with the death of her mother, who was well-known for her mooncakes – a traditional Moon Festival delicacy made from lotus seed paste and covered by a thin crust. When her father brings home his new love interest, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), and her rambunctious son Chin (Robert G Chiu), Fei Fei angrily vows to go to the moon and prove the existence of the Chang’e. In Fei Fei’s mind, proving the goddess existence to her father will demonstrate to him that even though his wife is gone, they will be reunited in the future. After all, the goddess is eternally waiting for her love, Houyi (Conrad Ricamora).

Critically-minded viewers may initially feel a sense of sympathy towards Fei Fei, whose tenacious work ethic and engineering know-how still cannot manage to get her rocket in orbit. Though endearing and refreshing to see a young heroine with such a passion for science, she must learn that the status quo of times past won’t hold true for the rest of her life. The plot proves to be predictable as viewers can see Fei Fei is in for a life lesson on loss and grieving, but it is redeemed through the film’s use of music, symbolism and animation.

Though Chang’e proves to be real, she’s not everything Fei Fei had imagined. Chang’e has unclear intentions at first by demanding that Fei Fei bring a gift from Earth to restore the goddess’ one true love, as well as imprisoning Chin and cheating at a ping pong game. However, it would be wrong to characterize the goddess as a villain – her actions come from the pain of loss, which she and Fei Fei must confront together.

Symbolism within the film also allows viewers to peel back the layers of a deeper message as mooncakes come to represent familial unity and each character also begins to take on symbolic meaning. Chang’e can initially be seen as Fei Fei’s attempt to cling to the memory of her mother as well as her drive to preserve the family of her youth. But the goddess’ role switches when viewers realize Chang’e exemplifies what Fei Fei could become if she does not process her grief.

[Related: Movie review: Live-action ‘Mulan’ fails to develop emotional plots, reflect cultural nuances]

Beyond such symbolism, Soo also effectively brings the soundtrack to life, taking viewers on an auditory journey through space in a futuristic neon yellow tutu-like skirt. The movie’s mix of acoustic and rap music demonstrates how the past and present can coexist and mirrors the lesson Fei Fei must learn. “Over the Moon” does however lack a memorable song representative of the film as a whole compared to other animated films like “Frozen” and “Moana” – a somewhat disappointing fact to an overall well-scored movie.

The engaging quality of the soundtrack is also somewhat reflected in the film’s animation. On occasion, there are beautiful moments of visual juxtaposition between the black and white surface of the moon and the luminescent creatures of Lunaria. Winged red lions silhouetted against the darkness of space makes for a brief moment of cinematic beauty, but the recycled pattern of similar visuals is never executed as well as the initial sequence.

Overall, the vibrant animation and varied music marginally redeem the movie’s simplistic plot and obvious attempts to mirror a Disney film. But regardless of its flaws, “Over the Moon” still proves to be a feel-good movie with exceptional characters.

With few options for new content, Netflix’s newest animation isn’t the worst way to spend a Friday night.

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Hannah Ferguson
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