Over the Moon: Lunar Tunes, by David Bax
Like many animated features aimed at a young audience, Glen Keane and John Kahrs’ Over the Moon is a musical. Thankfully, though, it’s not one comprised of pop songs (or songs trying to be pop songs). With the occasional exception of radio-ready numbers, like the one in which a moon goddess is introduced as a formidable diva, these are the kinds of old-fashioned, soliloquizing songs you’d expect to see in live theater more than on Netflix. They’re not the best examples of that kind of songcraft, exactly, but they’re not bad either. Like most of Over the Moon, they’re comfortably middle of the road.
When we first meet Fei Fei, she’s just a child (voiced by Brycen Hall) eager to please her parents (Ruthie Ann Miles and John Cho) by learning how to make the mooncakes they sell in their humble shop to their charming town full of people with inhumanly long legs (an animation choice that never stops being distracting). Those of us who have seen a movie before, though, know that this is too idyllic to last and, sure enough, Fei Fei’s mother gets sick and passes away. The rest of the movie takes place four years later, when a still grieving Fei Fei (now voiced by Cathy Ang) resolves to fly herself to the moon to prove the veracity of a legend her mother told her. It’s not a spoiler to say that she gets there, with a little help from some magic and her sidekicks, be they human, animal or other. After that, Over the Moon‘s devolves in to a series of contrived plot games, mechanisms by which set-pieces are built.
That’s where we get to what might be Over the Moon‘s actual purpose, to make you feel good about buying a television with HDR capability. Keane and Kahrs manage a few instances of actual visual inventiveness, like a floating room in space with invisible ceiling, floor and walls. But most sequences, like a shower of neon meteors crashing and exploding in starbursts of bright candy colors, seem destined for a life as demo reels on TVs at Best Buy.
It’s dazzling, yes, but it’s also kind of a letdown, since the pre-moon section of the film uses the color range to much more enticing–and appetizing–effect. Yes, for a while there, Over the Moon is a food movie, full of lovingly detailed accounts of mooncakes, hairy crabs, shrimp and other delectable morsels being prepared.
That’s the sort of thing I could stare at all day but, once we leave the terra firma, Over the Moon just can’t get its mojo back. Instead, we get bits like a cosmic ping pong/rap battle that can’t make a case for themselves as anything but filler.
Unfortunately, the non-filler stuff isn’t all that much more compelling. Fei Fei’s journey, no matter how fantastical it gets, is never less than obvious about its being a parable. Nearly every scene in the film contains at least one clear lesson about learning to move on and live with loss. That’s not objectionable–almost nothing about Over the Moon truly is–but it’s also not inspired.