‘Cause I’m ultraluminary.’
Netflix released its new animation film, Over the Moon, on October 16. The film centers around the story of a young girl called Fei Fei, who seeks to find the moon goddess with the help of her step-brother and her pet rabbit. The plot of the story revolves around the Chinese legend of Change and Huoyi. There are many versions of the legend of the moon goddess and her beloved but the film takes an entirely different route by leaving it up to the audience to decide which is the “true” version.
From the small details to the overarching plot, Over the Moon is the perfect movie for introducing Chinese culture to Western audiences.
In historical times, the legend depicts that there were ten suns in the sky, which caused great dismay to the people. Houyi, an archer and Change’s lover, shot down nine of the ten suns. When he received the elixir of immortality as an award for his deed, he did not immediately consume it as he did not want to leave without Change. However, Change consumed the elixir instead and flew up to the heavens, choosing the moon as her forever home. As time went on, Huoyi passed away without the love of his life. While there have been many different adaptations to this story, the original legend remains unclear on one detail: Why did Change take the elixir from Huoyi? Was she a manipulative individual this whole time? Did she mistakenly drink the entire bottle? Was she trying to protect Huoyi from a mysterious force?
With the mystery, the production takes advantage of this gap in the legend by depicting Change as a villain. With this beginning setup, audiences that might not be aware of the legend get to form their own interpretations of Change’s character.
Later on, the perception of Change does change as we learn more about her true intentions. Once she realizes that Huoyi passed away, she goes into a state of depression that affects her behavior and the moon itself. However, with Fei Fei’s empathy towards Change, as she has undergone a similar experience with losing someone important to her, both of the characters were able to move on from their inner conflict. Essentially, the situation behind both characters executes a perfect combination of leaving Change’s story development up to the audience and encompasses the central theme of the movie: learning to let go of the past.
While the overall story focuses on the cultural aspects of the moon in Chinese culture, the movie also panders to the Asian American audience members with many relatable scenes. From the iconic foods of the Autumn festival to the awkward interactions with relatives, the movie was able to capture some of the key experiences of Asian children. With the film’s many Asian cast members, it successfully integrates a deep story with Western styles while also successfully connecting it to Asian aspects.
In addition, the composition in animation is well-executed to introduce old myths to viewers. The movie references other “space-themed” legends such as Fei Fei’s pet rabbit and the space dog representing Chinese mythical animals in heaven. The audience can see the animators probably spent a hefty amount of time mixing elements of Chinese culture with Western animation into the models of the characters, especially the outfit design of the moon goddess in some scenes.
Furthermore, the music within the movie, especially Ultraluminary, is extremely praiseworthy. The song, sung by the moon goddess, showcases a wider variety of unique music styles, introducing the possibilities of mixing western pop with other traditional instruments. Although for some music pieces, when they incorporated the Chinese language, the clash between the two languages makes it hard to understand the language.
Overall, the movie surpasses expectations with a satisfying ending that showcases Fei Fei and her family getting along with her step-mom and step-brother, joining the table during the Moon Festival. The Pixar-like 3D animation for the movie is phenomenal, and the emphasized details on the Chinese legend help make the movie more interesting in the audience members’ eyes.
With its release, some criticize the story for being too unrealistic. However, it should be noted that the story is based on a legend that is largely open for interpretation, to which the animators choose the basis of the story being about colorful moon characters. Artistically, the animators really outdid themselves by immersing viewers in the world of the moon, creating a lively and colorful atmosphere that makes up the second half of the main character’s journey.
With the great animation, interesting storyline and accurate cultural depictions, the movie transcends the old legend with a unique story for new audiences.