Over the Moon is a touching story of a girl that loses her mother to illness and builds a rocket to visit the legendary Moon Goddess, Chang’e. Fei Fei’s colorful journey to the moon and the lengths she must personally travel as she learns to love again after experiencing loss is beautiful and touching. When you find out that this story was a gift from Aubrey Wells to her husband and daughter right before she passed away from cancer, the story takes on a new meaning.
When I found out about this heavy fact, the movie also took on a new meaning. We all watch movies through a lens. Our experiences in life shape the way we perceive stories. As someone who recently lost a parent to cancer, my lens was similar to Fei Fei’s.
According to her husband, Brian Larky, Wells knew she was living on borrowed time when she agreed to write the film and was deliberately careful for obvious reasons about choosing the last story she’d tell.
“The underlying piece that grabbed her was that it was a way to give her family freedom. How do you tell your little girl that it’s okay to love again? How do you tell your husband it’s okay to love again? Audrey’s line was always, ‘Love isn’t immortal. But it is eternal.”
“She wanted me to know the script meant everything to her,” says Producer Peilin Chou. “That it was the love letter she’d be leaving behind to her daughter to help her carry forth in the world.”
Academy Award®-winning Director Glen Keane was happy to take on the Director’s role and put aside another project to make sure this story was made. Keane brought his exceptional talent to the animation. He even animated the love story of Chang’e and Houyi. I knew the moment I saw it that it was Keane’s hand.
The Moon Goddess story is one of darkness and light as well. Chang’e herself is the main source of light in Lunaria. She creates everything around her. When her mood changes, so does the room around her. Even the Lunarians all around, which are meant to be the embodiment of joy and happiness, are created from Chang’e’s tears of sadness.
“I remember when Glen first gave me a brief for Lunaria, he told me to reference the cover of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd — a simple prism of white light and refracted colors. He said he had no idea what Lunaria looks like, but it needs to be as strong as this cover,” says Emmy-winning Production Designer Céline Desrumaux.
At the point that Chang’e and Fei Fei enter the Chamber of Exquisite Sadness, I realized how much I needed this movie. The realization that it’s ok to feel that sadness, but there are others still left in the world that love us. It’s ok to move on and love someone new. Fei Fei’s case allowed her father to love and remarry and accept Chin as her stepbrother, who loves her unconditionally no matter what. Children of divorce can also benefit from this story as well.
A moment in the film, we see a crane break away from its group and lands near Fei Fei. When the crane landed, I knew this bird was here to represent her mother coming to let her know she was proud of her. It’s the same crane that set her off on this personal journey of learning to love again and helping Fei Fei let go of her grief. And then I read this…
Audrey Wells’s daughter, Tatiana, nicknamed everyone in her family after a bird. Audrey’s was a pelican. An early version of the script had a pelican splitting from its group and landing on the water in front of Fei Fei as a way of signaling that the mother’s spirit was there. The bird was eventually swapped for a crane as they’re more common in that area of the world. After Wells passed away, while the film was in production, Tatiana recalled going on a ferry ride from Oakland to San Francisco when a pelican split from its group and flew next to her for 30 seconds, beautifully and serendipitously mirroring what her mother had written.
When my father passed away, my grandmother shared a story that a handsome cardinal visited her and sat with her for a little while. He was a stark red that stood out among the trees. Every time I see a cardinal come to visit and stay awhile, I think of my father visiting me. Y’all, I have ugly cried through watching this movie and writing this review. My grief is still very new, and I myself need to go on this same journey.
Over the Moon is Stunning
Beyond the powerful message, Over the Moon is a visually stunning movie that leaves no stone unturned in this modern retelling of a popular Chinese legend. The nine original songs and scores are meant to feel like Broadway joined with K-Pop.
The all-Asian cast mentioned how important this story was to them growing up, and the message meant for Well’s family. Chang’e is voiced by the amazing Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) and lends her immense vocals to the songs.
Cathy Ang is a newcomer who recorded a temp demo of the song “Rocket to the Moon.” Her very first rendition of the song ended up being so powerful and perfect that it not only earned her the leading role of Fei Fei but ended up being the final version that’s heard in the film. Ang’s partner is studying to be an astronaut. They joke that she actually beat him to the moon!
Over the Moon is streaming now on Netflix. Gathering your family and enjoy this wonderful tale.
Fueled with determination and a passion for science, a bright young girl builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of a legendary Moon Goddess. There she ends up on an unexpected quest and discovers a whimsical land of fantastical creatures. Directed by animation legend Glen Keane, and produced by Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou, Over the Moon is an exhilarating musical adventure about moving forward, embracing the unexpected, and the power of imagination.