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Netflix is continuing to take the animation industry by storm. Their latest addition to their growing repertoire of animated content is the American-Chinese Over the Moon, telling the story of 14-year-old girl, Fei Fei. Stricken by the loss of her mother and the notion that her father may soon be remarrying, she takes her fascination with the legend of the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e to new heights. This is by building a rocket to take her to the moon.
Netflix Animation has been making huge leaps over the past few years between their Oscar nominated Klaus to the wonderfully warm The Willoughbys. They clearly went all out on their latest too. Over the Moon, its release coinciding with the Chinese lunar festival, boasts the ambition and drive of a big budget Pixar film and the visuals here are for the most part breathtaking.
Over the Moon is a film that celebrates Chinese culture, showcasing it to a Western audience with all the beauty that it deserves. Telling a story that is essentially a study into grief and moving on, it manages to feel incredibly fresh by depicting these everyday struggles of humanity in a vibrant culture not often represented in mainstream movies.
The animation is lovely too, providing viewers with some different forms throughout its 100-minute runtime. There is the traditional 2D style during the retelling of Chang’e’s legend, along with the top-notch 3D animation of the city where our protagonist and her family live. On top of this, there’s quippy dialogue, a heartfelt message and loveable characters in our heroine and her potential stepbrother-to-be, Chin, who steals every scene that he is in.
In terms of visuals, at one point, we get a thrilling ping-pong match full of lights that zip across the screen. The 3D models in the film’s first act are incredibly well-designed and rendered and will no doubt enthrall viewers, as will the stellar Asian cast that bring them to life. With the likes of Sandra Oh, and much later in the film Ken Jeong, providing voices, the film manages to create believable character interactions and chuckles galore.
That said, Over the Moon is very much a film of two halves. While I was immediately drawn into the world because of its aforementioned qualities, once the heroes arrive on the lunar surface, the animation style and overall tone of the picture takes a drastic tonal shift. Characters become more surreal, stylised and ultimately less appealing and the stunning cityscape that had engrossed me from the start is replaced by something distractingly different.
It is clear to see what the animators were attempting with this contrast, showing viewers two radically dissimilar worlds. While technically it is jaw dropping, narratively it feels like an entirely separate movie. The end result is a film that lumbers weakly towards a climax that reinforces a message that was already being expressed perfectly in its opening stretch.
Perhaps some of the magic may have been lost on me due to my sheer lack of knowledge of the culture and mythology the film represents. If so, I am sorry. Either way, technically and visually Over the Moon is incredible, made with a standard that could rival any major studio production. Its messages are solid too and for a family film, it is worth checking out. Although I am not over the moon about it, this film at its best artfully brings a new culture to the mostly young viewers who will seek it out. For that, I could never fault it.