Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
China/USA, 2020. Glen Keane Productions, Janet Yang Productions, Netflix, Pearl Studio. Screenplay by Audrey Wells, additional screenplay material by Jennifer Yee McDevitt, Alice Wu. Produced by Peilin Chou, Gennie Rim. Music by Steven Price. Production Design by Celine Desrumaux. Costume Design by Guo Pei. Film Editing by Edie Ichioka. American Cinema Editors Award 2020. Golden Globe Awards 2020. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2020. Online Film Critics Awards 2020. Producers Guild Awards 2020. Washington Film Critics Awards 2020.
Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang) has an idyllic life with her happily married parents, running a stand that sells moon cakes that are a local favourite because of their special recipe. At night before bed, Fei Fei’s mother tells her stories about the moon goddess Chang-e, who languishes in the sky waiting to be reunited with her faithful lover Hou Yi. The happy days are marked and measured by the constant presence of moon cakes until illness ruins their bliss and Fei Fei’s mother dies, leaving her feeling alone but still keeping the stand running with her father and her adorable pet bunny at her side. When dad (John Cho) comes home with a new friend named Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), Fei Fei interprets her father’s moving on as a willful act of forgetting her mother’s existence; to add insult to injury, this interloping woman brings with her a boisterous brat of a son named Chin and, to Fei Fei’s pain and dismay, her own augmented moon cake recipe. Fei Fei sees no other option available to her but to break this relationship up, and what better way to do it, at the same time avoiding your own inability to process your grief, then to build a rocket to the moon? Fei Fei believes that if she could just get a picture of herself with Chang-e, it will make her father remember that he is still in love with his late wife and will forget about this nonsensical new woman. Because this is a delightful animated film, she actually makes it to her lunar destination (with the help of the goddess’s own minions), but what she finds is a colourful place populated by unhappy creatures enduring the unreasonable demands of a deity who is herself deep in sorrow. Chang-e (Phillipa Soo) has grown wretched in her longing to find her beloved again and all the bouncy, unusual creatures around her live in fear of her rage. She demands a gift of Fei Fei but our heroine does not know how to fulfil the request, attempting to figure out the puzzle in order to get what she came for. The details get muddy here, the story loses touch with the emotional element temporarily as it gets caught up in a series of convoluted quests and tokens and trinkets, but when it’s ready to get back to the heart of what it’s all about, which is a really touching tale that can help children dealing with grief, it hits its mark beautifully. There’s a selection of songs that pass as tuneful but don’t quite match the charm of the characters and screenplay created by the late Audrey Wells, who passed away in 2018 and to whom this perceptive film is dedicated.