3 out of 5 stars
While our options for entertainment choices expand, the world seems to be shrinking as the lines between cultures seem to fade. The joint venture of Pearl Studios and Dreamworks brought out the recent film, Abominable. A film that attempted to meld together the style of Western animation with the imaginative storytelling of China, which met with varying levels of acceptance from audiences and critics. Yet, it must have been a worthwhile move, because Pearl has now partnered with Netflix and Sony Animation to continue this animated mix of cultures with Over the Moon.
From the same creative team that brought Abominable to cinemas, this is an adventure that does not limit itself to this planet. This fantasy adventure looks at life through the imagination of a teenage girl who sees the possibilities of travelling to the moon. Her goal is to bring her family together. Throughout her young life, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) has been taught the legend of the moon goddess Chang'e (Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo) by her parents. She is the deity that is celebrated with mooncakes and family gatherings during the annual Moon Festival. Cultural celebrations that become marred by the death of the young girl’s mother. Fortunately, she has a wonderful relationship with her father (John Cho), extended family and the local community that supports her through this difficult time.
Then four years after her mother’s passing, a new woman comes into the life of her father and he hopes that Fei Fei will connect with her too. Ms Zhong (Sandra Oh) does all she can to reach out to the teenage girl, but it is not easy at first. Especially since Ms Zhong’s overly rambunctious son, Chin (Robert G Chiu), seems to get in the way at every turn. Which leads this brilliant young girl to consider building a rocket to escape the realities of this earth and to prove the existence of the moon goddess. Hoping that Chang’e will help her solve the problems of her life and even lead her father to turn from his desired marriage to his new lady friend. Even though this all seems to be an ill-conceived plan, Fei Fei does manage to build her space vessel. Yet, things are not as they seem when she achieves the goal of reaching the surface of the moon.
Just when all of this sounds a bit too bizarre to embrace, another element to consider is that this film is a musical. The songs and musical score are delivered by Academy Award-winning composer, Steve Price (Gravity). No small feat when considering that this film goes from the cultural immersion of modern Chinese culture to the multi-coloured fantasy world of life on the moon. An experience that will require that viewers must let go of their preconceived notions of animation and go along for the ride. If people can do this, they may be able to enjoy this imaginative musical space adventure that involves mooncakes.
Even though it could be said that this whole project feels like two different films in one and the screenplay is a bit of an overreach, Over the Moon works. A surprising statement that can be credited to the central character’s charismatic appeal and a great voice cast. They allow for the audience to excuse the disjointed move from the realities of the earth to the Candyland existence of the moon’s surface. Fortunately, Price’s score seems to weave together the duelling storylines by adding a dash of magic to the whole film. A script that will draw in those with whimsical imaginations and cause those with a stark sense of reality to turn this film off as soon as Fei Fei gets to the moon.
What should parents know about this Over the Moon?
This animated film is a fantasy adventure that explores the animistic theology of Chinese legend. Stories that make little sense to modern audiences, they do introduce deities and varied cultural views of life after death. Elements that may seem harmless to some, but is worth mentioning to parents of young children. This should be a family opportunity. If all of you choose to watch this film together, then take time to discuss the different views of God, the universe and the afterlife that different cultures have in this world.
If you do not want your young children to be exposed to these messages, do not watch this film. But, we would not say this is a movie to avoid. Over the Moon is one that should lead to conversations with your children about some of life’s bigger questions. Why not take that opportunity? Who knows what will come from your time together. If anything, it may make you hungry for mooncakes.
“I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Isaiah 44:6