This article was originally published in the Women’s Republic.
There are a lot of animated features that are centered around the death of someone that was loved. Often characters go through an adventure to find some solace in their grief as a means of moving on after loss. Over The Moon is a film about a young girl who is dealing with the death of her mother as her father is moving on from their shared grief. At the core of this film, it is about how people deal with loss. It is also about how they try to cope with it after they are gone.
This movie was written by Audrey Wells. Wells died after battling cancer for five years and wrote this film for her daughter and husband. It was a way for them to remember her after she passed away. This is the reason why the movie is so touching. It is a story about loss, and this movie explains that this loss is universal and personal amongst everyone.
The movie is helmed by Disney veteran Glen Keane, a character animator who is behind many of the Disney Renaissance films like, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast. This musical animation is inspired by a Chinese legend, Chang’e, the Moon Goddess, who falls in love with Houyi, a mortal man, as she tries to return to him. From mooncakes to the traditional values of fu dogs, it explores Chinese culture during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Fables and mooncakes
This movie starts with Fei Fei’s mother telling her the love story of Chang’e and Houyi through a musical number. The immortal being and her mortal lover yearns to live with each other, but when Chang’e steals the potion of immortality, she is banished to the moon. Ever since her banishment, Chang’e hopes to return to Earth and be reunited with Houyi. The musical sequence is beautifully animated that perfectly captures the nature of their love story.
All of this takes place during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the family owns a small mooncake shop and prepares them for the festival. The sequence shows Fei Fei learning how to cook her mother’s mooncake recipe, which is extremely special to her; Fei Fei getting older and eventually mourning her mother’s death. Four years later, Fei Fei’s father introduces her to Mrs. Zhong and her son, Chin, who will become part of the family. After the family dinner, Mrs. Zhong hands a lunchbox to her with a mooncake made, especially by her. Fei Fei is frustrated that he has moved on from her mother and would soon forget her. So Fei Fei sets on an adventure to prove that true love lasts all eternity, just like Chang’e and Houyi. If she can prove that Chang’e exists, that would mean that her father will still remember and love her.
Adventure on the moon
Fei Fei builds a spaceship and sets off to find Chang’e with her bunny pet, Bungee, and Chin, who was stowed away on her tiny spaceship. Once she gets to the moon, Fei Fei realizes that Chang’e is not exactly how her mother had described in the stories. She is a pop star and is rude to the talking mooncakes. When she’s “astronomically upset,” she rains down a meteor shower on the moon, and her tears turn into sentient beings.
After Fei Fei explains her plan to Chang’e, she demands the young girl to bring “the gift” so that she can return to her lover, Houyi. Fei Fei meets a Biker gang who turns from allies to rivals once Fei Fei finds her Chang’e doll, which is “the gift.” They abandon her on the moon and set off to claim the reward by Chang’e. She meets Gobi, who becomes a companion and friend to Fei Fei when she needs him the most. They set off on a giant floating frog to Lunaria and get back “the gift” from the Biker rivals.
As Fei Fei and Gobi are trying to retrieve “the gift” from the Biker rivals, the doll gets destroyed. Devastated, she accepts that she will never be able to prove that Chang’e exists to her father and that he would soon forget about her mother. Fei Fei discovers the lunchbox that Mrs. Zhong had packed for her. As she takes a bite out of the mooncake, she notices something inside it. It’s the other half of Chang’e’s broken amulet. Fei Fei realizes that this has been “the gift” all along. Once Fei Fei returns the amulet to Chang’e, she is reunited with Houy. However, only for a moment as he begins to fade away.
Learning to move on from the tragedy
After Houyi fades away and leaves Chang’e, she goes into a state of sadness, which causes all the lights of Lunaria to extinguish. Once a luminous, kaleidoscopic kingdom, it is now left with no sign of life and color. Fei Fei tries to reach out to Chang’e. But in turn, she loses herself in a state of sadness as she remembers her mother.
For Fei Fei and Chang’e to overcome their sadness, they try to lift each other and understand that they need to find love and happiness with other people in their lives. They encourage each other to move on from their tragedies and bring Lunaria back to its colorful glory. Once the barrier is broken, Chang’e returns Fei Fei and Chin to her home, and she is reunited with her father and Mrs. Zhong. Here, she learns to accept Mrs. Zhong and Chin into her family.
The lesson behind Over The Moon
Over The Moon is a well-expressed emotional journey of the protagonist learning how to get past the death of her mother. She sees her mother as Chang’e to deal with the loss itself. The themes are effective and expressed in such a way that resonates with what the character is feeling. Themes of grief and loss are written carefully and beautifully with real-life inspiration.
“[She] wrote it really for her daughter and her husband after she would pass away. The movie was no longer an intellectual, theoretical thing. It was deep and it was real. How many people lost loved ones throughout the making of this film? It’s part of what we go through in life. No one is immune to that.”
Audrey Wells who wrote this movie as a final message for her daughter and husband about grief and the loss of moving on after her death. The movie is a love letter written by Audrey to her daughter and husband as something to remember her by. It is a story that includes a deep and meaningful message of how love lasts forever, even after loved ones are gone. It is about healing and finding someone that you can love again. Audrey passed away in 2018. She finished the script in six months, knowing that she would not be able to live that long.
The celestial world and faults of Over The Moon
While the characters’ emotions are deeply resonated with the themes of the movie, there are a few stumbles in this animated feature. At the helm of this film, director Glen Keane made his directorial debut with a fantasy outer-space musical that is targeted towards kids. Visually, it is exquisite — a kaleidoscopic kingdom with floating objects, sentient creatures, floating frogs, and lights that up the entire space.
Some of the choices that were made in the film, visually and even in terms of storytelling, were similar to other Disney animated films. Coco, a family-oriented film that focuses on Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead celebrations, while Over The Moon explores Chinese culture and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Also, it adopts a trope that was popular during the Disney Renaissance Era: dead mothers.
As for Gobi, he feels like a mixture of various Disney characters. Sometimes Gobi is Russell from Up or Olaf in Frozen or Bing Bong in Inside Out. It seems a bit too familiar for people who are fans of Disney films, and they are hard to miss.
The story starts to go downhill when Chang’e is introduced. After a spectacular musical number, it is impossible to figure out if she is the villain or not. Her actions are unpredictable, and the decision to make her a pop-star on the moon seems to be unclear. Her emotions are all over the place, sometimes confusing to a point where she has two personalities in the movie.
Over The Moon does not fail to capture the emotional core of the movie’s themes. It is a universal story of loss and grief that everyone is familiar with, the importance of finding new love, and accepting loss. It is undoubtedly beautiful and emotionally driven.
A troubled and conflicted character that learns to let go of her grief and loss while accepting new people into her family. Essentially, it is what she feels inside her that is important to the story. The animation team does fantastic work in expressing Fei Fei’s emotions through her eyes. From sadness to enthusiasm they let the audience connect with her feelings.
At times, the movie felt overwhelming while trying to tackle these elements of the film. Changes in tone and locations seem off and confusing, as the story felt more grounded and personal while it was set on Earth. Once the characters arrive in Lunaria, it is an adventurous Mad Max-like movie that shifts through various colors, emotions, and tones drastically, sometimes losing focus on the main focus of the film.
Despite comparisons to other films and missteps in the story, Over The Moon leaves you with a lesson in grief and loss. The mistakes are somewhat forgotten as the emotional core of the story is the strongest element of the movie. It is an adventurous tale that leaves us with an unforgettable lesson.