Animation legend Gil Keane comes to Netflix with a frustratingly generic film about a young Chinese girl building a rocket to the moon.
When were American children's films so preoccupied with death? When did it become as much a death sentence to be a loved one in a colorful, animated children's adventure as a teenager in a "Final Destination" movie? Loss and the lessons that come with it are somewhat fundamental to a genre that is still associated with the likes of "Bambi" and, more recently, "The Lion King," but in recent years it has felt like this as if it were a length of features cartoons have taken on their role as surrogate grief counselors for young people who need a spoonful of sugar to lower the medicine.
This is not a complaint: as someone who grew up on the grieving "My Neighbor Totoro" (and was comforted much later in life by the wisdom and beauty of a movie like "Kubo and the Two Strings"), I know he was kids controls your worst sadness is one of the most precious things a movie can do. Suffice it to say that Netflix & # 39; "Over the Moon" – the story of a modern Chinese girl who believes that evidence of the existence of the moon goddess Chang & # 39; e will convince her widower father not to return to her mother to marry and "forget" It seemed more urgent if it hadn't been on the heels of "Kubo", "Coco", "Onward" or even "Wonder Park". When this film is more itchy than a red patch of skin that has already been roughly scraped off.
Of course, there can never really be too many stories like this one as there will be more and more kids to watch (and this one has the added pain of being the last movie screenwriter Audrey Wells left for her family in front of her Death in 2018). It's also worth noting that "Over the Moon" is much younger than some of the films mentioned above and in a way that might allow it to resonate with a vulnerable demographic whose narrow attention spans believe the depth of their pain. Wells' script focuses less on loss than on allowing grieving people to live and love again, and that accuracy sometimes helps this fable stand out from their ancestors.
But when "Over the Moon" goes into orbit for its specificity, much of the film is frustratingly general for a fable so rooted in a particular sense of place, the unique traditions that go with it, and the way how they help certain little girls learn to appreciate the enduring light of their late mother's love. The result is a taste of Chinese folklore that is Disneyfied almost beyond recognition – a film that gets a little lost between telling a story about a child and telling a story that might resonate with everyone.
The directorial debut of animation legend Gil Keane (whose character designs defined everything from “The Rescuers” to “Tangled”), “Over the Moon”, essentially builds a sophisticated framework around the old myth behind China's Mid-Autumn Festival on the origin story, the young Know people by heart in this part of the world. Fei Fei (voiced by brave newcomer Cathy Ang) is a smart girl who grew up as the only child of two loving parents who run a food stall on the banks of a historic water town south of the Yangtze. Her childhood was as sweet as the mooncakes her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) baked every day and as amazed as the stories her father told her every night (John Cho has the kind of piercing, tender father's voice that makes you want to it being a better parent).
At the end of the "Up" -like prologue that ends with the death of Fei Fei's mother, our visionary protagonist is exactly at the age when science and imagination begin to feed each other. She is young enough to believe that a woman named Chang & # 39; e is actually on the moon, waiting to be reunited with the archer she left on earth, but also old enough to understand the physics it takes to go up there and see for yourself. (Fei Fei's enthusiasm for modern technology is expressed in her overcrowded obsession with maglev trains. That kind of plot detail makes you wonder if the Chinese government had some non-negotiable notes for Wells' script.)
And that's exactly what Fei Fei decides when her father announces his engagement to the lovable Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh). If she can prove to him that Chang & # 39; e is real, then maybe he would realize that love is forever and that her mother is irreplaceable. "Over the Moon" is tied to the western restrictions of its heroine's journey, which sometimes does not do justice to Fei Fei's magical thinking, but the hymn she utters before launching into space – a Super American "Want" song The Classic Vein of "Let it Go" or "Part of Your World" and the narrative most important of the nine original numbers in the film offers a clear window into your imagination and concludes the best directed sequence of the film.
Unfortunately, the trippy black-light wonderland that awaits Fei Fei and her blind future stepbrother Chin (a wild little guy voiced by Robert G. Chiu) in the sky makes it come back. As the Day Glo Star kingdom ruled by the needy and stormy Chang & # 39; e (Phillipa Soo) with a neon fist, the moon feels like it's been decorated by the same level designers that Bowsers made for the Creation of Rainbow Road. The Pink Floyd of everything is definitely a choice, but when space chickens and a cast of Pikmin-like "lunarians" (including a dog-shaped Olaf wannabe voiced by Ken Jeong who appears in the film for 50 minutes and never has enough time earning the tearful wallop he is supposed to leave him with) distracts from the emotional core of the story and Chinese roots, and definitely gives kids enough eye candy to cast a spell over them.
This also applies to a moon chase reminiscent of “Ad Astra” and a handful of energetic bangers that effectively divide the difference between children's music and mainstream K-pop. Pieces are credited to Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park (who wrote music for the sensational off-Broadway show "KPOP"), and those that include any type of Asian production highlight the missed opportunities elsewhere. What does K-Pop have to do with Chinese folklore? You'd rather not ask "Over the Moon".
Traditional Chinese instruments like the pipa are buried in the layers of Steven Price's unforgettable score, and someone delivers a mandarin chorus at a crucial point in the third act, but most of the great songs feel thawed: "Frozen" After half an hour of Fei Fei, Chin and their obligatory cute animal companions crawling around the moon in search of the MacGuffin demanded by Chang & # 39; e, it's easy to lose sight of where these characters came from or what the moon was goddess means to her.
It is a shame because the myth at the heart of this story has such a rich history and the film is shaped by scenes that depict Fei Fei's Chinese family with great warmth and exquisite detail. When CGI animation still can't hope to convey the life and texture of our world or the people in it with the same vitality of hand-drawn art, Keane's hyper-expressive character design (and delicious photo-realistic food) is peeling back the plastic sheen of this modern day Aesthetics – it doesn't matter what it all looks like when you can almost taste the tofu Fei Fei's family serves at dinner or smell the flour of the moon cakes that serve as vessels for their mother's love and the past that it is is implied.
It is in these earthbound moments that "Over the Moon" becomes most poetic and dimly illuminated how the people we love can light up our lives after they are gone. It just seems bright enough to hold on to kids until they're old enough for other, similar films ready to structure that light with a little more darkness.
Grade: C +
"Over the Moon" will be streamed on Netflix on Friday, October 23rd.