Sony Pictures Imageworks (the company behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) deftly balances the magical with the scientific, the complex with the simple, in animating this movie that can best be described as a space fantasy. On Earth it’s refined by the incredible details, down to the design on the mooncakes, and the photorealistic fireworks acting as rocket boosters. A single spectacular sequence combines crimson-and-golden lion guardians, like something out of an old painting, with the desolate, craggy surface of the moon. Then there’s Chang’e’s entire neon aesthetic, bright and pulsing with life, as if it were something out of The Lego Movie.
Meanwhile the soundtrack is best appreciated not for individual numbers—no single song attains Disney classic status—but rather as the sum of its parts. There is a clear emotional arc to these varied numbers that when experienced as a whole is remarkable. The movie’s first few tracks draw their inspiration from traditional Chinese music, with later numbers layering on the K-pop influence, and then ultimately stripping the songs back down to their purest essence, matching Chang’e’s various phases.
That said, the songs do peak via the goddess’ popstar persona, with the most memorable numbers including her epic introductory performance of “Ultraluminary” and “Hey Boy,” a fun ping-pong/rap battle between Chang’e and Chin. While the team of Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park worked together on all of the songs, no doubt it was Park’s influence that made these particular numbers soar. (She was behind the 2017 Off-Broadway musical KPOP, in which Ang starred.) Composer Steven Price’s alternately playful and stirring score ties it all together wonderfully.
These sequences are so spectacular that it leaves something to be desired by a late in the movie scavenger hunt where Fei Fei begins pursuing a “gift” to save her family. Unfortunately, it is no more than a lunar MacGuffin: a distraction from the grief that weighs down both Fei Fei and Chang’e herself.
Nevertheless, Over the Moon never loses sight of the fact that this is not a story about gaining something or someone, but rather about learning how to cope with an unimaginable absence. Tragically, Audrey Wells died in 2018 following a long battle with cancer. A prolific screenwriter with a talent for writing across genres (rom-com The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Disney’s The Kid and the live-action George of the Jungle), Wells left behind a tremendous gift in this script. This is a heartfelt, empathetic lesson in moving on, written by someone who must have been considering exactly that ordeal from the other side. (It should be noted that Jennifer Yee McDevitt and Alice Wu contributed additional material to the screenplay.)