I almost didn’t have anything to review today. For some reason, I never got around to watching a film this weekend. I guess I just spent too long trying to get through that bloody Murder, She Wrote book. I didn’t realise until Monday that I’d forgotten. So, I had the choice to write something else for today or watch something and review it in the same night. I had thought about weighing in on the Johnny Depp/Fantastic Beasts news but I didn’t know if that would go against my ban of the writer who must not be named. In the end, I picked the quickest new release on Netflix that I could find. I didn’t know anything about it but someone I follow on Instagram had watched it recently. What did I have to lose?
Last week, I posted about the underwhelming Hubie Halloween. It was just the latest in a string of unsurprising Netflix comedy films and is exactly the level of content that we’ve come to expect from the streaming service. They do certain things well but their taste in comedy is apparently off. One of the things that they’ve generally been pretty successful at is animated films. 2019’s Klaus should have won the Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars but Toy Story 4 had a talking spoon. So, even though I didn’t know anything about this film, I went in with higher expectations that I did for Adam Sandler’s fright fest.
Over the Moon feels very much like a classic Disney film thanks to its story and precocious young female lead. As with every decent animated film, the film starts with her losing one of her parents. In this case, it’s her mother and Fei Fei is left devastated by her death. Four years later, the 13-year-old is horrified to discover that her father plans to marry again. Fei Fei’s mother used to tell her the legend of the Moon goddess Chang’e and her lost love Hoyui. In order to stop the wedding, Fei Fei and her pet rabbit build a rocket and head to the meet the goddess herself. The only problem is, the girl’s annoying future step-brother is along for the ride.
Animated films have never shied away from difficult topics and the best ones have always offered life lessons. Although, this has stepped up in recent years with releases like Inside Out and Coco. These films help children understand difficult topics and, as a consequence, are utterly soul destroying for adult audiences. Over the Moon is another in this tradition and I can’t be the only one who ended up in flood of tears at the end. I can’t say that the narrative itself is completely cohesive or exciting but it does allow for some fantastic animation. This is one vivid and bold film. It has the look and world-building of a Pixar film with the story of a Disney film.
Unlike a Disney film, it lacks a really memorable soundtrack. It’s not that the songs in Over the Moon are bad but they’re not the kind of songs you’ll be singing in the days following. It’s also nothing to do with the performances as the film has an incredibly strong cast list. A cast list of primarily east Asian actors. It is headed up by Phillipa Soo as Chang’e who puts everything into her songs. It’s just a shame it all gets lost in the chaos. The songs don’t feel as though they drive the narrative forward but are simply a break from it. This is a film that starts strong and starts to fall apart the longer it goes on.
Though it can’t compete with some of Netflix’s earlier animated successes, Over the Moon is a sweet and fun film. It introduces some fun new worlds but it never spends enough time really getting to grips with them. It’s so fast paced that the message gets lost and you lose some of the sincerity that made films like Inside Out so wonderful. It should be praised for its representation and attempt to introduce different stories. Having a film set in China voiced by actual Asian actors shouldn’t feel like such a big deal but it is. This is a film with its heart in the right place but it just needed a bit of fine-tuning.