2020 | rated PG | Animation | starring (VO) Cathy Ang, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Margaret Cho, Phillipa Soo | directed by Glen Keane | 1 hr 35 mins |
Over the Moon is not a very good movie that comes from a beautiful and heartbreaking place.
In a story that feels like a mash-up of The Little Prince and The Lego Movie 2, Moon follows a young girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) who, while still grieving the loss of her mother, notices that her father (John Cho) has met another woman and threatens to move in with her rambunctious son. Inspired by her parent’s telling of the legend of the love-lorn Moon Goddess Chang’e, Fei Fei plots to build a spaceship in her backyard and travel to the dark side of the moon to convince the Goddess to remind dad of his love for his late wife.
Over the Moon was directed by Glen Keane (who I got mixed up with Monster House director Gil Kenan), an animation supervisor/character designer for Disney since Beauty and the Beast and produced by the studio that released the adorable Abominable last year. With that pedigree you might expect richly textured animation, a soundtrack of catchy songs, a lived-in exploration of Chinese culture and a movie that wears its heart firmly on it’s sleeve. The movie has it’s heart in the right place, but Keane and Co bungle the mechanics at just about every stage, rendering a shockingly bare and generic universe beyond the stars to set our heroine’s adventure and loading up a full-fledged musical without a single memorable song.
The first act of Over the Moon is pretty solid. We get into Fei Fei’s head, feel her anxiety at her dad changing her life around her, follow the family cooking Moon Pies and Fei Fei genius-child Tomorrowlanding her way to building a small rocket ship for herself and her pet rabbit to fly her to the moon. That is all good stuff. Once the adventure kicks in, it’s like a magician whipping out a card that wasn’t yours. The movie falls apart under a mash of random ideas, jokes only a small child could be ok with and kids movie tropes galore. The movie promptly introduces us to the kingdom of the Moon Goddess (Phillipa Soo, Hamilton) who introduces herself in song that only draws an unenviable comparison to Lego Movie 2 show-stopper “Not Evil”.
Her kingdom is a generic half-developed world on the surface of globes made of gummy star creatures. We meet a star dog (Ken Jeong) – who acts like Doug from Up – and chickens on motorcycles that call themselves Biker Chicks and look like Angry Birds. The Moon Goddess sends Fei Fei on a quest to find The Gift, a McGuffin that sends her bouncing off globes and her soon to be brother-in-law locked in a ping pong battle (the movie’s best scene). The space section of the movie is garish and lazy beyond words. Nothing about it works. It’s not visually interesting, there is no world building, nothing is at stake or exciting. It’s when it gets back to Moon Pie-making Earth that it works again.
Over the Moon was a studio project written by Audrey Wells, who passed away before it was completed and holds the film’s dedication. Wells penned studio films as diverse as The Kid, George of the Jungle, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Game Plan, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Hate U Give. She wrote this movie while battling cancer as a posthumous love note to her daughter, an idea that comes shining through in the film’s touching final scene. It’s a children’s movie for just one child and it achieves it’s purpose. That’s what makes Over the Moon, for all of it’s many, many flaws, a piece of art. A time capsule infused with the deeply personal message of one of the artists behind it in the same way a solid black Rothko gives us a glimpse of the artist itself. It’s not a movie for me and it isn’t intended to be. We just get a chance to share in it.
*star score intentionally left blank