Reality vs Fantasy — “Over The Moon”

“Believing is Everything” — odd tagline for a fantasy film

There’s a great joy in the synchronicity of the Universe. China has launched a rocket to the moon so astronauts can bring back lunar rocks and sand. At the same time, there’s a delightfully zany animated film, Over the Moon on Netflix that features a Chinese girl with ambitions to build a rocket to the moon. The reality of a Chinese Moon Mission and the fantasy of an animated moon adventure may not seem like much of coincidence until you take into consideration how few animated movies feature stories of lunar adventures, let alone ones featuring a realistic look at family life in China.

Over the Moon is a collaboration between Pearl Studios (China) and Netflix Studios. Directed by Glen Keane & John Kahrs, the film pays tribute to the Moon Goddess legend. A young girl uses her math and science skills to engineer a rocket. She’s determined to prove to her father that the legend is actually a reality. If she can prove that it’s possible to continue to exist for centuries pining for love, surely that’ll convince her father to not remarry. The animation is beautiful and the eyes of the characters are particularly expressive. The young boy is a delightfully loud and annoying sidekick. The otherworldly setting is an unusual combination of glowing corpuscular shapes and a Moon Goddess who’s presented as an anime rock star crossed with a spoiled superhero diva.

This film will appeal to musical lovers as there are big music numbers throughout. Young girls who’re huge Hamilton fans will swoon over Phillipa Soo singing the part of Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. Older children may find it confusing that a spunky young girl who’s a whiz at engineering wouldn’t have a grasp of basic principles of space travel: gravity, logistics, distance, etc. But this is an animated fantasy; not a realistic story. If you believe that characters will break out in song to express every emotion, maybe you’ll be willing to accept that math and science can sit easily astride a legend of a lovelorn Goddess living on the Moon.

SFFILM Education Panel w/director Glen Keane, star Cathy Ang, Producers Peilin Chou and Gennie Rim

For the lucky few that had access to the live panel discussion curated by Keith Zwölfer, Director of the San Francisco Film Society’s Education Team, there were some fun insights and a drawing lesson from the Oscar-winning animator, Glen Keane. Cathy Ang, the voice of Fei Fei, also sang one of the film’s songs, “I Want to Fly” (score by Steven Price). We learned that the animation team went to China; spending time in a river town to create a realistic setting for the film. The empowering story of a young Chinese girl overcoming her grief and coming to terms with her father’s new relationship isn’t a new concept but the emphasis on science and the magical trip to the moon is unique.

In a year where movie lovers have been blessed with some wonderful female representation in films large and small, Over the Moon presents a smart young Chinese girl who’s NOT a Disney Princess. She tries to use science to solve her problems and isn’t saved by magic or a prince. Presenting a surreal trip to the moon mixes fantasy and the reality presented in the tale. Still, Fei Fei rescues herself by using her wits and a gift of love from father’s fiancée.

And who knows…maybe the real Chinese astronauts will find evidence of a Moon Goddess amongst those lunar rocks?!

Drinks with Films rating: 3 cups of Chinese tea (out of 5)

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