Netflix’s ‘Over the Moon’ Is A Luminary, Heartwarming Journey of Love and Loss – Review
For many Chinese and Chinese Americans, the tale of the goddess Chang’e is a familiar one. In fact, each year, the moon festival is held in the goddess’ honor as she waits on the moon for her lost love. Mooncakes are often consumed during these festive times, taking place usually during September. Netflix takes this cultural myth and reimagines it into a brand new story with Over the Moon with the young heroine Fei Fei.
Warning: this review contains mild spoilers of Netflix’s Over the Moon.
The moment I saw that the legendary Glen Keane was directing this movie, I was immediately excited. He’s best known for being closely tied to Walt Disney Studios as an animator, including works such as The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and Tangled. As a result, Over the Moon somewhat follows a very similar Disney formula: brave heroine, dead mom, cute animal sidekick, a ton of really catchy songs, and an overarching lesson of self-growth to be learned.
The movie is a retelling of the famous myth of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), which is most notably a story of yearning and waiting. Once human, Chang’e was in love with an archer named Houyi. One day, while Chang’e hid away a couple of immortality pills–one for her and one for Houyi–their home was ransacked by soldiers. Desperate, Chang’e hid both the pills in her mouth, only to swallow them both and gain immortality. As a result, because she was no longer human, she couldn’t live on Earth anymore and so she was pulled away from her love and floated to the moon. There, she lived alone with only the Jade Rabbit for company, waiting for a time where she can be reunited with her love Houyi.
For many familiar with this folklore, it centers around the theme of longing and waiting. Over the Moon portrays that tale and those themes with its own interpretation that provides closure for Chang’e. However, the main story follows our young heroine, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) as she grapples with change, grief, and the various kinds of love she has around her. With parallel storylines, Fei Fei and Chang’e help each other realize how to overcome grief and to realize that just because one form of love has gone, other forms of love still exist. For anyone who has experienced grief and loss, the film touches heavily on the different ways people express and channel those emotions. In the end, the resolution in overcoming grief is a little too tidy and conclusive, but it’s an important lesson nevertheless that one cannot dwell forever in grief and forget all the love that still surrounds them.
Love is a prominent theme across the film, whether it be romantic love, platonic love, and familial love. Among those, we see each form of love is expressed differently and some even evolve into something different. Romantic love is shown that it can’t be expected to be the same from relationship to relationship. Most importantly, just because one love has ended, new love can still flourish. And the movie is true to Chinese culture; explicit public displays of affection aren’t common and instead love is expressed subtly or in indirect means.
My favorite form of expression throughout the movie is through food. Given that Chang’e is the goddess of the moon, the moon festival features heavily on mooncakes as a cultural delicacy that’s eaten during the celebration. Large family meals are also enjoyed together at the table filled with all sorts of delicious food prepared together with love, all shared via a large lazy Susan in the middle. Here, Fei Fei’s family all sit cozily together around a large circle table, chatting about the myth of Chang’e and enjoying each other’s company. Love surrounds both Fei Fei and Chang’e in various manners despite their inability to see or accept it in ways unfamiliar to each of them.
Once Fei Fei arrives on the moon, she’s ushered into a fluorescent concert surrounded by colorful animate mooncake fans. Chang’e takes the stage in a lively performance, immediately getting the crowd to its feet. The pop idol stylization of Chang’e was instantly strange and disorienting. For a while, I couldn’t wrap my head around it, even pausing the movie to take a moment to adjust to the sudden shift in stylization. I’m so used to the myth and the goddess being traditional and graceful, and so when she was modernized, it was incredibly confusing. It’s certainly a way to connect to the audience of today and it could explain what Chang’e was doing all this time up on the moon. After a while, I got used to it, though it was a bit of a messy eyesore I found it incredibly jarring.
Speaking of Chang’e and her pop idol status, the songs in the movie are quite the earworm, both the pop songs and the ballads. And given how immersed this story is in Chinese culture, it was so nice to hear songs with both English and Mandarin singing. With musical powerhouse Soo as Chang’e, her pop songs like “Ultraluminary” are easily meant to get stuck in your head while the soft ballads are touching and emotional. And Fei Fei’s songs of yearning, especially “Rocket to the Moon” really fit the bill for this musical movie.
There is some valid criticism with the casting of this movie about Chinese folklore featuring Chinese characters. While there are certainly some amazing big name Asian American actors featured like Phillipa Soo, John Cho, Sandra Oh, Ken Jeong, and Margaret Cho, as well as my personal favorites Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, and newcomer Cathy Ang, many of these actors are not Chinese or Chinese American. On one hand, I love that this movie highlighted some amazing Asian and Asian American actors, but on the other hand, it’s important to emphasize that Asians are not interchangeable. The movie is a small step for amazing Asian representation while simultaneously not fully highlighting the voices that this movie is meant to celebrate.
While I wasn’t completely over the moon about this movie, it is absolutely a charming take on a famous Chinese myth with equally charming songs. The ending is predictable but the fun was in the journey, the music, and the character growth. The lessons of overcoming grief and exploration of different kinds of love is touching and eye-opening. But most of all, the characters and the myth is a great avenue of representation and celebration of a culture and festival that is beloved by so many people. Over the Moon is a family-friendly watch that will send viewers on a luminary, heartwarming journey to the moon and back.
Netflix’s Over the Moon streams on October 23.
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