Review: Over the Moon (2020)

Directors: John Kahrs, Glen Keane 
Screenwriters: Jennifer Lee McDevitt, Audrey Wells, Alice Wu
Starring: [voices of] Cathy Ang, Phillippa Soo, John Cho, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh
Genres: Animation, Children/Family, Sci-fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action
Release Dates: 10/23/20 (Limited Theatres/Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 35min 
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Where to Watch: Netflix
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Animated Feature, Original Song (“Rocket to the Moon”)

Over the Moon is one film that is competing for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar this year, although it doesn’t stand a chance against Pixar films Soul and Onward, as well as the acclaimed Wolfwalkers. And, that’s not just because it’s a Netflix animation production, but mainly due to the fact that it’s not a good film. I went into the movie with high hopes, as it seemed like the kind of family-focused film that would be right up my alley; plus, it is meant to focus on Chinese culture and, with a line-up of an all-Asian voice cast, this should be a solid step in the right direction for representation. While it succeeds at least slightly in that regard, it fails to be the Disney film that it sets out to be. 

It’s a shame that Over the Moon was such a disappointment for me, especially since it starts out so strong; the first act (or series of scenes, rather) are very touching, amusing, and well-written, and is reminiscent of the tears-inducing, masterful beginning of Up. I found the characters very compelling and real at that point, even when they broke out into song; while most of the scenes in the film seem out of place (tonally and thematically), the ones at the beginning are actually quite good. There’s one, “Rocket to the Moon,” that I still have stuck in my head, and reminds me of Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go”; if any of the original songs are nominated at the Oscars, it will be that one. 

Once the narrative changes direction, the tone of the film changes, and not in a good way. This is where Over the Moon lost me, as I was no longer invested in the story, despite strong voice work from the cast (including a surprisingly restrained Ken Jeong). The animation tries too hard to be interesting, and the bright colors and fantastical creatures and settings are too jarring and unrealistic. The main character’s lack of a reaction to this is inauthentic, too. It’s hard to explain exactly where my issues lie without giving away spoilers, so I’ll refrain from getting too specific. When the climax of the film is reached, it doesn’t feel like a real, earned one, and the conclusion is as disappointing as the previous two-thirds. 

Like I said, I enjoyed at least two of the songs, although the remaining ones just don’t work for me, despite beautiful vocals from the cast, especially Hamilton alum Philippa Soo. It’s wonderful to see her gifts being put to use, but I would’ve preferred her be given a better-written character. She’s also tasked with delivering some of the most cringe-worthy lines, and I wasn’t sure if she was meant to be the antagonist/villain of the story. With a lack of conflict, the movie suffers. 

That all said, Over the Moon might appeal to young children who just need a distraction. Parents, unfortunately, will probably be bored and want to watch something else.