Released: 23rd October 2020
Seen: 5th April 2021
When it comes to the Oscar race this year for best animated film, it feels like Soul is the foregone conclusion. It’s kind of hard to beat a film that was so funny and poignant with such impeccable visuals and was such a cultural event. However, the race isn’t quite over yet and I would like to offer a wild card entry that might sneak in at the last minute, that being the Netflix original film Over The Moon.
Over The Moon starts how a lot of animated movies for children seem to begin… the death of a parent! Specifically the mother of Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) who passes away because she’s the mother in an animated film and don’t you know that’s a crime around these parts? Anyway, Fei Fei’s father Ba Ba (John Cho) has finally started seeing someone new and would like to try and move on with his life but Fei Fei will have none of that so she decides to try and find Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) who can grant her a wish if brought a special gift… now, Fei Fei just has to find it.
Of all the films up for best animated film, Over The Moon might be the most joyfully colourful of the bunch. Even during the parts of the film that take place on earth, it’s fairly brightly coloured but when the characters go to the moon, so does the number of colours the animators decided to play with. It’s a stunning film to look at, at times bordering on garish but never quite tipping over that line. They’re bright and eye-catching with a lot of fun contrast to really make the film as engaging as possible, not that it needs much help with that.
I might mock Over The Moon a little for using that old cliche of “Dead mom” but in truth, the film actually does something kind of brilliant with that… it makes the film about coping with the loss of a loved one. A lot of films that have this beat in the story really don’t address how hard it is for a kid to lose a parent but this one does, it doesn’t make the stepmom evil or the brother particularly mean. This is a kid who lost her mom and hasn’t coped with it yet and learning to deal with her emotions is the entire point of the film, and it’s handled beautifully.
Where Over The Moon weirdly falters is in the musical numbers which… I’ll be honest, I couldn’t even hum if I tried. None of them were particularly memorable and all sounded very similar. Now, were they pretty? Sure, you hand a song to Phillipa Soo AKA the OG Eliza Hamilton and it’s going to sound good no matter what, but nothing in this movie felt that memorable or even essential. A good musical should have the songs be so essential that you couldn’t possibly replace them with dialogue… this film? Yeah, pretty much everything except for maybe the first number could just be dialogue, which sucks cos the songs were pretty… I think, I’m slowly forgetting them already.
What I’m not forgetting is how efficient the film is in telling its story. With an hour and a half to get through this little quest there is almost no fat on this thing, it just glides through the story as quickly as it can, which is great for kids with no attention span, the downside is that the big message of “You have to live your life” is kind of reserved for the ending. Hell, for most of the film the brother character, who stows away on the rocket to the moon, is locked off in a room where he stays until he’s needed for the climax. I appreciate that he’s not overstaying his welcome, but a little fleshing out could have helped.
Of course, none of my negative critiques matters because an adorable fluffy bunny shoots lasers from its floppy ears and therefore 10/10, best picture of the year.
In all seriousness, Over The Moon is charming and colourful with a lot of heart and some great performances by a talented cast. While I would have liked a more memorable soundtrack and a bit more time developing the main relationship between the brother and sister, what’s here is so damn good that it pushes aside most of my biggest worries and just skates along being joyfully charming from start to finish.