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Family Movie Review: Over the Moon (PG)

Netflix’s ‘Over the Moon’ is narratively convoluted but dazzlingly, gorgeously animated.

Kernel Rating: 2.5 out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 95 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 7+. A young Chinese girl whose mother has died decides to travel to the moon to visit the moon goddess Chang’e, whose stories she grew up hearing from her parents. She builds a rocket ship and is successful in her journey, but the son of the woman her father is dating stows away with her, and they spar with the selfish moon goddess who is initially disinterested in helping them. Some slightly scary stuff on the moon, including a meteor shower, a crash landing, a Chamber of Exquisite Sadness that can plunge you into depression, and an escape through a series of moving platforms that seems like something out of a video game. Some bathroom humor and insults, and a primary subplot about the moon goddess mourning the death of her lover.

By Roxana Hadadi

The imagery of “Over the Moon” is so staggeringly beautiful that you almost forgive the somewhat predictable, often convoluted plot. A glowing green space frog allows a girl to ride on its back through a meteor shower; a gleaming chrome rocket ship bursts into space and is surrounded by stars; a gorgeous moon goddess performs on the surface of the moon with an array of backup dancers in colorful, detailed outfits. The Chinese-American coproduction inspired by the Chinese myth of the moon goddess is full of magical visual moments. But the plot of “Over the Moon” retreads many of the same elements so familiar to this genre that it ends up feeling slightly generic despite its consistent beauty.

“Over the Moon” follows 13-year-old Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), whose mother died four years before. In the years since, Fei Fei has held close the story her mother used to tell her about the moon goddess Chang’e, who took an immortality potion thinking that her true love Houyi would join her in a life of happiness forever. But Houyi died, and Chang’e has waited for him on the moon for years. The sadness of that story has meant a lot to Fei Fei, and she’s shocked when her father (John Cho) seems to have forgotten it—and when, during the Moon Festival celebration that is so important in Chinese culture, she learns that he’s dating someone new.

The possibility that Mrs. Zhang (Sandra Oh) could be Fei Fei’s stepmother and that her 8-year-old son Chin (Robert G. Chiu) could be Fei Fei’s stepbrother interrupt the dynamic that the teen girl had already grown accustomed to with her father. Frustrated by her father’s dismissal of Chang’e, she decides to travel to the moon to prove him wrong. She builds her own spaceship in the shape of a paper lantern, she launches off, and she realizes that Chin has stowed along—once again interrupting a plan she had already made for herself.

Nevertheless, when they get to the moon, imagined here as a glowing bonanza of light and color, Fei Fei is proved right! Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) is real! But … why is she such a jerk? Chang’e demands a gift from Fei Fei that she believes will reunite her with Houyi, and when Fei Fei doesn’t know what she’s talking about, she’s pulled into a conflict between various groups of the moon’s citizens. Some of them are aligned with Chang’e and some of them aren’t, and Chang’e’s obsessive desire to find this gift is only hurting everyone. How is Fei Fei going to get out of this, and get herself and Chin home?

The primary issue with “Over the Moon” is that while it centers Chinese culture, honors its customs, and teaches viewers about the components of the Moon Festival and the importance it holds for Chinese families, it also wastes a ton of time once the narrative gets to the moon. While the cognitive dissonance of Fei Fei being both deeply committed to a myth or legend while also being a science whiz serves the story, some of Chang’e’s characterization doesn’t make sense. How is she simultaneously deeply depressed and in mourning, while also giving gigantic stadium-level concerts on the moon for her fans? That contrast feels like the movie shoe-horning in a musical element that doesn’t entirely jibe with its characters. And the second half of the film’s array of obstacles that Fei Fei and Chin must face are so low-level as to feel narratively meaningless; a game of ping-pong is a nod to China’s dominance of the sport, but does little to further the story.

Too often, watching “Over the Moon” will remind you of so many other animated children’s movies, from “Frozen” to “Abominable,” that already approached these themes—in particular, how children process grief—in similar ways. Still, when “Over the Moon” slows down some instead of sprinting from one scene to the next, it boasts some really exciting moments and an emotionally effective (if predictable) conclusion.

“Over the Moon” is currently streaming on Netflix.

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