East meets West in the lightly charming children’s lunar fantasy “Over the Moon,” a Chinese-made Netflix movie that puts a modern Hollywood spin on a Chinese folk legend.
The animation, from “Kung Fu Panda” veterans Pearl Studios of Shanghai, is first rate, the songs pleasant if not particularly memorable.
The story? It’s a real “kitchen sink” affair, a “Mulan,” “Maleficent” and “Tron” mashup stuffed with science and silliness and oh-so-many-cute-sidekicks.
Is there a McDonald’s toy tie-in with this release in China, as of this month the world’s number one movie market?
Little Fei Fei grew up with her eyes on the skies, hearing her mother’s version of the story of Chang’e, the Goddess of the Moon, and Hou yi the archer. Theirs was a great love, but there were immortality pills and they were separated and Chang’e is doomed to spend eternity on the Moon.
“When she cries, her tears turn to stardust.”
Oh, and a giant space dog (a chow, of naturally) takes bites out of the moon each month, which accounts for the phases.
Years pass, songs come and go, and Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) becomes a motherless teen, running the Yanshi City bake shop with her dad (John Cho).
But this new woman in Dad’s life (Sandra Oh) triggers Fei Fei’s jealousy and memories of “the perfect family” that they were. As they make preparations — and moon cakes — for the annual Moon Festival, Science Girl plots and plans to build a rocket to take her to the moon.
She will prove Chang’e is real, that Mom’s stories were true, and revive her father’s memories of Mom, banishing Mrs. Zhong (Oh) forever.
The first sidekick is Bungee, Fei Fei’s pet rabbit. The first flashes of comedy come from Mrs. Zhong’s “rambunctious” son, tweener Chin (Robert G. Chiu). He’s convinced he has a super power. He can run through anything — walls, etc.
“No BARRIERS!” is his catchphrase.
When Fei Fei makes her lunar attempt, naturally “annoying” Chin stows away. The rocket has promise, but a teenager’s limitations in terms of planning. Luckily, there’s a little magical intervention from the Goddess herself.
But about that Goddess (Phillipa Soo of “Hamilton”). She’s not what Mom described. She’s hardly “alone,” and not doing much crying. She’s a pop diva, with an audience of loyal “fans,” sort of a Chinese Katy Perry or Rihanna in space, or Zeng Keni singing in English. Not a shrinking violet, in other words.
“I’m the light every night in your world,” she sings. Worship me.
Fei Fei meets her, and Chang’e has just two questions. “Where’s my gift?” And “What butcher cut your hair?”
Chinese Mean Girls are the meanest.
Fei Fei’s quest changes and that “proof” and “bring back our perfect family” priority tumbles away as she encounters “Biker Chicks” on Tron-cycles (literally giant “chicks), and a blobbish former “court jester” banned from court for being a motor-mouthed nervous talker who sounds like Ken Jeong.
Co-director Glen Keane is one of the major animators/designers of Disney’s recent classics — the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pocahontas,” etc. Every character in this is well-conceived, visually. There’s even a “Kung Fu Panda” styled sketched and water-colored fantasy sequence, relating the story of Chang’e and Hou yi.
But “Over the Moon” is all over the place in terms of themes, plot and such. The film is much more interesting and fun on Terra Firma, capturing the routine of baking moon cakes, the banter of big family dinners celebrating the Moon Festival (listen for Margaret Cho and Kimiko Glenn there), maglev trains and the wonders of childhood.
The script allows for one emotional moment and just a couple of real laughs, as well as a few chuckles.
It’s not quite up there with Netflix’s lovely holiday offering from last year, “Klaus,” even if it is several steps above the studio’s animated “miss” “The Willoughbys.”
But it’s a pleasant kid-friendly diversion on a par with Pearl’s “Abominable,” and in a year when animated films aren’t heading to theaters or coming out at all, it might even be an Oscar contender.
MPAA Rating: PG
Cast: The voices of Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh, Margaret Cho and John Cho.
Credits: Directed by Glen Keane and John Kahrs, script by Audrey Wells and Jennifer Yee McDevitt. A Pearl Studios film, a Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40