Can’t Leave Our Homes but Can Go Over the Moon

by Ariel Delormé

Netflix and Sony Productions have come to together to create the new children’s movie, Over the Moon. I was beyond excited, seeing as it was directed by former Disney employee, Glen Keane, who also had a hand in creating The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled, Tarzan and Pocahontas.

Since leaving Disney in 2012, Keane has directed two animated shorts, but has otherwise stayed out of the movie making scene. However, looking at his resume, I had high expectations. The film also includes some high-ranking celebrities as voice actors, including Ken Jeong from Community, Broadway actress Phillipa Soo, John Cho from Harold and Kumar, and stand-up comedian Margaret Cho.

Glen Keane
Photo: Trishavo3

Personally, I love animated films in spite of being a grown woman. It may be that I grew up with Disney and have certain ideas about what kid’s films are supposed to be like, but I found Over the Moon subpar.

The high note was definitely the visuals. The characters are drawn similarly to the modern Disney proto-type, which I enjoy. The scenery is incredibly detailed, with each scene looking like it could be a painting. There is often some form of nature or people doing something in the background, keeping it interesting.

The protagonist, Fei Fei, spends most of her time in the film in space, and bright neon colours take the focus of almost every scene, really giving that extraterrestrial vibe. The animators made it fun to look at, and I could see toddlers or easily distracted children enjoying the film regardless of the plot. Fei Fei has an adorable bunny for a sidekick and her step-brother, Chin, has a frog, for that appeal to cuteness.

Another positive would the film’s Asian representation. Over the Moon is an American film with an all-Asian cast, which is incredibly rare. During an interview, associate director Hank Abbott, discussed all of the cultural accuracies the team had to verify for the original English version and for the translation into Mandarin Chinese, one of which being humour. They
switched out entire lines to make sure jokes would make sense for both Chinese and English viewers. He also apparently had been informed of how a Chinese child would typically be more polite to a disliked step-mother than an American child, and the team adjusted Fei Fei’s behavior accordingly, such as having her nod at her step-mother rather than bow to display rudeness.

I didn’t notice a lot of these small details until I read the interview, which makes sense since those tidbits weren’t placed there for me. The film still feels fairly American to me, and I don’t think it would feel alienating for anyone who wanted to watch it. The film crew did an excellent job of blending the two cultures.

Interestingly, the film flopped in China. It was released directly to Netflix for Canada and US, but China had a theatrical release, with the box office getting an approximate $864,000 USD in the first 3 weeks. There isn’t as much upset about cultural inaccuracy as the live-action Mulan. Instead, many just found the plot kind of bland.

In terms of music, I liked one song. Gobi’s song ‘Wonderful’, is quite endearing and heart-warming. It reminds me of old Disney songs. Chang’e’s pop music entrance was not my favourite. Perhaps I’m just old, but the Lady Gaga-esque music that she sings grates on my ears, I can’t stand it. She also performs a weird rap song during a ping-pong match that I find ill-suited to her voice. I also found the songs a bit out of place at times and like they were forced.

I absolutely hated hearing Fei Fei sing as she built her rocket ship; I knew they were trying to draw me into the story and understand the Fei Fei’s pain, but it was so overdramatic and annoying. Children might like it, though. The film’s music has a very modern feel to it.

The real problem with this film, I found, is the story. It lacks originality; killing the protagonist’s parent(s) is so overdone and a complete cop-out for coming up with something new and interesting. I also just couldn’t manage to feel invested in the storyline because I don’t relate with Fei Fei on any level.

I realize this is a children’s movie, but her desire is so far out in the left field. Her father wants to remarry, thus Fei Fei needs to prove the moon goddess is real to stop that from happening? What are these mental gymnastics? It makes no logical sense.

I don’t even know where to begin with how ridiculous it is for a child to build a rocket ship that goes to space within what seemed like a few hours, possibly a few days. I also just didn’t care about Fei Fei at all. She was unnecessarily mean to her stepmother and stepbrother and she didn’t really have any redeeming qualities. The only point of empathy was when her mother died and I felt like they didn’t express her grief well enough. Fei Fei shows more emotion when she thinks than her
father is moving on with his life than when she loses her mother, which makes her motives even more questionable.

To summarize, Over the Moon is an okay film. It’s visually appealing and I think a toddler would like it. I think it’s wonderful that there are more Asian characters in American children’s movies, and that particularly Chinese-American children might be able to relate to or at least enjoy this film.

I think the creators should try again, though, and make ‘having an interesting story’ be a key feature, along with having representation and making sure it’s culturally accurate.

Over the Moon can be streamed on Netflix