REVIEW: Character issues make ‘Over the Moon’ a misfire

The year 2020 hasn’t been my favorite for animation and unfortunately, “Over the Moon” hasn’t helped that case.

The picture, released on Netflix, tells the story of Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), a young girl who became fascinated by the Moon because of stories told by her late mother. At the film’s outset, following the death of her mother, Fei Fei is working with her father at their small pastry company.

Life seems to be carrying on for the family, but the pain of loss still lingers for Fei Fei. That pain is reinforced when her father begins spending time with a woman, Ms. Zhong (Sandra Oh), as the Moon Festival approaches. Eventually, she learns that her father plans to marry Ms Zhong, and as a result, she will likely be getting an annoying step brother in the deal.

Hoping to fix the situation, she builds a craft capable of reaching the moon to speak with an ancient being who resides there. The plan goes a little haywire, though, when it turns out her step-brother-to-be, Chin (Robert Chiu), tagged along for the ride.

“Over the Moon” starts off with a lot of promise, but just continually declines as it goes on. In terms of story, the picture really hits a snag in the second act, as the characters are sent off on a seemingly random fetch quest that just devolves into some wacky hijinx.

Along with this plot thread, the middle of the movie also features an odd game of ping pong between Chin and the Moon spirit, Chang’e (Phillipa Soo). It feels unneeded and doesn’t do much to add to the characters.

Speaking of the characters, they are all fairly hit or miss. As the protagonist who’s suffered a loss, it’s easy to root for Fei Fei. Unfortunately, the character is somewhat inconsistent, though.

Earlier in the film, Fei Fei is spouting off several facts about the Moon and she’s able to build a ship that can fly into the atmosphere. However, her abilities and knowledge related to science never really comes up again in the second half.

There could have been an interesting premise there about how she is trying to deal with grief by investing her time in science and technology, but it’s not really there.

Courtesy Netflix and Pearl Studio.

The rest of the characters are where things really stumble. Chin just feels like simple comic relief , despite being the second main character. Chin could likely have worked had he been given more screen time, though, to show off more of his qualities, but he’s split up from Fei Fei in the second act.

This is a huge issue, because instead of Chin and Fei Fei building a familial relationship as brother and sister on an adventure, they’re separated up. As a result, their eventual reunion at the end of the movie feels lacking because their relationship wasn’t properly constructed.

The Moon spirit, Chang’e, is oddly portrayed, too, as the film basically gives her two gears, acting either as singing diva or a melancholic character longing for her lost love. The shifts in how the character acts just feel too disjointed.

During the watch I was reminiscent of how “Moana” handled it better with Maui, as that character’s pride and attitude was directly tied to his insecurities over past failures. With “Over the Moon,” though, Chang’e just isn’t given enough nuance.

It doesn’t help that the film is filled with a bunch of other unnecessary characters, too, like a group of motorcycle riding chickens and a pair of bunnies who become friends. There’s also another main side character, a Moon creature voiced by Ken Jeong, who’s introduced halfway into the movie when he befriends Fei Fei.

The film, at least, is nice to look at. The animation is really vibrant with a plethora of colors on display. The animation also assists in making some of the music-driven scenes more entertaining. Although only some of the songs are even memorable.

It’s disappointing as a whole, because Fei Fei is a good character to build a film around and the animation has some beautiful moments. The movie isn’t a total loss, some of the humor lands and there are legitimate heartfelt moments for a family. This one just falls far short of other pictures in the genre. 2.25 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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