Glen Keane makes his directorial debut in upcoming Netflix Animated Feature, OVER THE MOON. The mastermind behind the design of Disney‘s iconic Ariel and also Supervising Animator of classics Beauty & The Beast and Aladdin, also teamed together with the late Kobe Bryant to Oscar glory with 2017 Animated Short, Dear Basketball.
The Film centers on a bright young girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) who loses her mother. After some time passes, she finds it difficult to accept that her father (John Cho) has found love again as Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh) and her rambunctious son Chin (Robert G. Chiu) enter her life suddenly. Touched by the stories her mother told her of a legendary Moon Goddess named Chang’e (Philippa Soo), she builds a rocket ship to seek-out her existence and get her help. Together with her bunny Bungee (Edie Ichioka) and unexpectedly soon-to-be stepbrother Chin, they find themselves off to a mystical world where they meet the larger-than-life Chang’e, who isn’t quite what Fei Fei imagined. The Goddess too like Fei Fei is coping with loss and tasks her with finding a gift. Along the way, Fei Fei and Chin meet many characters in this cosmic world of wonder.
OVER THE MOON is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before and despite all the gorgeous visuals and powerful balladry to go with it, it is anchored most by its heartfelt theme of coping with grief in a way that escapes melodrama, but still manages to tug tightly on the heartstrings. Furthermore, we had screened this Film as part of a special presentation by the American Film Institute, where we learned that late Screenwriter Audrey Wells had written the Film before her passing as a love letter to her daughter, giving her blessing to both her and her husband to be happy even after she has left the world. Just thinking about this, makes our eyes well-up. The Film is spirited meditation about life and beyond, which respects fully the tender emotions that accompany it.
Above this, the story goes into great detail about Chinese mythology and cultural observations like the Mid-Autumn Festival (around which the Film’s release is being timed), going through great lengths to respect to the culture, explaining it in a way that those who are unfamiliar will understand and connect to. While tonally it doesn’t necessarily embody the subtlety and understatedness of Chinese culture, it has an appeal which will speak to a wide audience. It is difficult not to feel something watching it. And we applaud the conscious decision behind the Film’s all/part-Asian casting, making a bold statement in an era where Inclusion and Diversity are front and center in Hollywood.
The Film’s standout is a breakthrough performance from newcomer Ang who originally was only supposed to record a demo of the Film’s Theme Song “Rocket to the Moon“, but landed herself the Lead Role. She approaches the world with a curiosity and an unaffectedness that charms her way into our hearts. Hamilton‘s Soo is tremendous as the diva-like Chang’e, commanding her scenes with an omni-presences and also some seriously dynamic vocals. Ruthie Ann Miles as Fei Fei’s mother is only in pieces of the Film, but leaves a lasting impression acting as Wells‘ vessel. Ken Jeong is delightful as a whimsical creature named Gobi, whom we can’t help but say is this Film’s very own Olaf, bringing lightness and sentiment in equally-balanced proportions.
OVER THE MOON is certainly a welcome surprise in a year where we’re in need of something heartwarming and uplifting. An instant classic born amidst the Pandemic. It arrives on NetflixFriday, October 23, 2020.
A Snap of our special AFI Presentation today moderated by Producer Janet Yang, Director Glen Keane, and stars Ken Jeong and Cathy Ang: