Over The Moon (2020) reaches for the stars.
Death. All great children’s movies start with a death. Or so it seems. And so it is with Netlfix’s “Over The Moon”, a kaleidoscopically colourful animated musical fantasy with Disney-level ambitions. Much has been written and said about Hollywood studios adapting and pivoting their output to attract and embrace a burgeoning Asian box office but in “Over The Moon” we see the reciprocal action of China seeking to put its best face forward to Western audiences.
As a young girl, Fei Fei is entranced by her mother’s tales of the legend of the moon goddess Chang’e, who accidentally took an immortality potion and now waits on the moon for her lover Houyi. The legend forms the basis for the annual Moon Festival, for which Fei Fei and her mother make mooncakes for their friends and neighbours every year, until Fei Fei’s mother dies after falling ill. When, four years later, her father gets engaged and Fei Fei inherits a new brother, Chin, she decides to prove once and for all her mother’s story was true and builds a rocket to the moon.
It’s interesting that this and the new adaptation of “The Secret Garden” came out within a few days of each other because they’re both films dealing with grief and recovery, albeit from very different cultural viewpoints. It’s also worth noting that the animated characters of “Over The Moon” are warmer, more vibrant and more alive than their chilly British counterparts.
The healing a broken family is not unfamiliar ground for a children’s story and for its first act, “Over The Moon” stays distinctly terrestrial, offering us a wonderfully immersive Chinese fantasy of family, food and fragrant festivity which abruptly takes a turn for the astronomical as it doubles down on its whimsical embrace of physics to deliver us a lunar landscape which owes as much to Dr Seuss as it does to Chinese mythology and folklore. The musical numbers are spectacular to behold although the songs do lack that effortlessly iconic and catchy feel that the best Disney songs do but that may also be because they’re simply outshone by the animation and character design.
Alive with colour and spectacle, wonderful character design and a beautifully judged tone, there’s a metatextual punch to the movie thanks to the real-life poignancy surrounding it, it being the last work of screenwriter Audrey Wells, who died during the film’s production and to whom the movie is dedicated. Lots of kids movies deal with the death of a parent, but few handle it as sensitively and poetically as “Over The Moon”. It’s an utter delight from start to finish.