Netflix and Pearl Studio announced today that newcomer Cathy Ang, Grammy winner Phillipa Soo (Hamilton, Moana), newcomer Robert G. Chiu, Ken Jeong (Crazy Rich Asians), John Cho (Searching), Ruthie Ann Miles (All Rise), Emmy nominee Margaret Cho, Kimiko Glenn (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Artt Butler and two-time Golden Globe winner Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) will be joining in the voice cast of director Glen Keane’s animated feature Over the Moon.
The studio partners have also launched the official trailer for the pic, which you can find below, followed by Animation Magazine‘s exclusive interview with Keane from the Annecy Festival issue.
The film, which is slated to premiere on Netflix this fall, is produced by Gennie Rim (Dear Basketball) and Peilin Chou (Abominable), co-directed by John Kahrs (Paperman) and written by the late Audrey Wells (The Hate U Give, Under the Tuscan Sun). It features songs by Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield and Helen Park and a score by Steven Price (Gravity).
Produced by Pearl Studio and Netflix, Over the Moon follows the adventures of a young girl named Fei Fei who 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.
Clockwise from top left: Director Glen Keane, producers Gennie Rim, voice star Cathy Ang and producer Peilin Chou
“I love characters that believe the impossible is possible,” said Keane during a recent online event. “I like that in my own life. We all face impossible odds in our life, now more than ever, and nothing can stop a character that sees the goal. For Ariel, it was to live out of the sea somehow, and for Fei Fei it’s to build a rocket to the moon. I felt like I had to do this movie. I get that girl.”
Keane, who received an Oscar for directing the late Kobe Bryant’s short Dear Basketball, added that there was something very exciting about discovering a country like China through the perspective of this young protagonist. “I think there’s something wonderful about telling a story from the point of discovery where you are learning something new,” he said. “Peilin took us on a little tour in China, and we visited this wonderful little water town that became the town for Fei Fei. People would invite us into their homes and we got to have dinner with a Chinese family in their home. I had never known what it was really like in China, and the people were so warm and friendly. And what was, I guess the most inspiring to me, was how everything happens around food and the dinner table.”
Chou noted that the film was Audrey Wells’ final project before she passed away from cancer in 2018. “She was so excited about that idea, about a strong girl that loves science and was interested in doing that,” says the producer. “But beyond that, she really connected with the story thematically because she was going through her own journey in her life. We didn’t find out until a year or so of developing the project with her, that she shared with us that she was sick and she didn’t have a lot of time left. And so she really, really wanted to leave this movie behind as a love letter for her own daughter and her husband to talk about what happens when people pass on, that love still really lasts forever. And we were really fortunate that she was still with us at the first screening. So she really got to see a version of this film, which she absolutely loved, and was so, so happy and excited about.”
Rim mentioned that the idea for the film came through Shanghai-based Pearl Studio and became realized thanks to the Netflix partnership. “It’s actually been an incredible journey,” she noted. “We followed Glen’s creative process and talked about the storytelling and the freedom of creativity. I think it’s definitely a Glen Keane film through and through, and he’s had so much support from both sides. I think we’re just all really excited to see the world experience this film in this way.”
Both Rim and Chou emphasized the importance of working on a movie that offered an honest and original representation of Chinese families and culture to the U.S. and the world.
“I definitely grew up at a time where I never saw anyone that looked like myself in U.S. movies or on television,” said Chou. “So, it’s meaningful to me to be able to bring this type of story and the culture also, which very much is a part of who I am and how I grew up.”
Keane noted that working with Netflix, Pearl and Sony Imageworks offered much creative freedom in terms of the film’s visual styles. “Netflix is a really unique studio in that there isn’t a house style,” he explained. “There’s a leaning into each creative’s personal vision. We did this film at an amazing speed. We were the first ones in this little Netflix animation studio. Within four or five months, had the entire movie up with the eight songs written and storyboarded. Everything was happening really fast. There was this confidence that this was going to stick. This was our film.”
Chou added that while the film’s characters and experiences are very specific to China, overall the movie is universal and globally relatable. “Audiences will get to see a real Chinese family, real characters with depth and the same longings and desires and hopes for their children and themselves as everyone around the world. We’re all just people and connected in that same way. So I hope people will see that and feel connected to that. In a way, it’s kind of like being able to visit China through an animated film and really experience the people and the culture.”
A Lunar Voyage to Remember: Q&A with director Glen Keane
Animation Magazine: Although we have only seen a few drawings from Over the Moon, there is a lot of early buzz surrounding your new movie. Can you tell us a little bit about how you became involved with the project?
Glen Keane: It’s interesting because we were supposed to offer a work-in-progress session
about the movie at this year’s Annecy Festival, and my involvement with the project began at Annecy in 2017. I was giving a talk about thinking like a child and how the key to creative longevity is holding on to your childlike creativity, and believing that the impossible is possible. I found out later that sometime during my talk, Peilin Chou (CCO of Pearl Studio and former development exec at Disney) and Melissa Cobb (VP of Kids and Family at Netflix) leaned over to each other and said, “He has to direct this movie!”
The heroine of Over the Moon is a 12-year-old girl who builds a rocket to the Moon, and she reminded me so much of the other characters I had animated throughout my career. When my producer Gennie Rim and I read the script, we felt compelled to do it. This is Audrey Wells’ swan song. [The screenwriter died in 2018 from cancer at the age of 58.] It tells such a beautiful story. So, this movie became one of the first animated projects set up at Netflix.
You have spoken a lot about your love for hand-drawn animation. How are you enjoying directing this CG-animated feature?
There was a moment where Peilin was saying, we want you to make this movie your own, and we know you love hand-drawn. But after doing Tangled I realized how much drawing is infused in CG if you want it to be. It can be the foundation to everything that you do. So, we decided to take all the power of drawing and design, the beauty of the lighting and the design and colors and textures that CG can bring. We decided to do it in CG. Now I look at the film and cannot imagine that we could have done it any other way.
How is the work divided between the studios?
Gennie Rim (producer): Most of our team right now is at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver. We are wrapping up the film there. In terms of Pearl Studio in Shanghai, most of our team were there during the early stages, vis-dev stage, helping out with the design and consulting throughout.
Glen Keane: It’s a very international production. We have people in Holland, in Spain, France, Canada, China. It was truly a new model of doing animation not only internationally, but within a studio system — unique the way Netflix and Pearl collaborated on this project.
What are some of the standout qualities of this movie that makes it special to you?
My favorite animated movie is Peter Pan: There’s this wonderful moment when Peter Pan takes Wendy, Jonathan and Michael out of the window of their home, and they fly across London. That idea that you can fly has always been a big part for me. I have flying dreams! As I read the script, the idea of building a rocket to the Moon really captured my imagination.
When I was seven years old, I had a birthday party, and my dad told us, “I don’t know if any of you might be interested, but I was talking to NASA and they’ve built a rocketship. It’s all top secret, so I can’t show it to you. But it’s in our backyard and I can blindfold you and give each one of you a ride on it.” So we were blindfolded and went outside, and sat in the cockpit and you could hear ground control talking as the rocket took off and you could feel the wind in your face.Then, we finally landed, my mom took the blindfold off. My parents had set up a lawn chair and they had just carried us in the air. They had used a ham radio to recreate the sound of the ground control. That was the most wonderful thing and I never forgot that experience.
I feel like animation is like that. It takes you on this ride that everyone is going to believe it. So much of the story in Over the Moon is like Wizard of Oz, and believing Dorothy goes up in the tornado and visits Oz. Our movie is the same kind of adventure that we want to take audiences on. I love the fantasy, the imagination, the desire to make believe, but deeper than that it was something that Audrey was writing from this deep, heartfelt need. Our main character is going to the Moon to meet a Moon Goddess, and just like Dorothy, she has to go through this experience to be able to deal with the problems she is facing at home.
Can you tell us a little bit about the movie’s visuals and your sources of inspiration for the overall look?
The movie has quite a unique look of its own. We went to China and spent time in these water towns, because we wanted the film to have an authentic look and have the qualities of the real world we were animating. Our production designer, Celine Desrumaux (The Little Prince, Age of Sail) had just returned from a backpacking trip through China. She fell in love with the textures and details of the real China, not the stereotypical ideas of what people imagined China to be.
In the second act of the movie, we are on the Moon. I showed Celine the cover of Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon, where there is this white light hitting this prism and you see all these bright colors coming through. Celine created a world that was so unique and breathtaking that is pure color. The idea is that the world on Earth is reflected light, while the Moon world is all source light. Another influence was the work of Spanish artist Joan Miró from the early 1900s. We used his imaginative colors and organic shapes as inspiration.
What about the design of the characters?
Well, I knew I wanted to draw and design some of the characters in the movie, and I did. Disney gets so deeply ingrained in you after you spend 40 years there. I was looking at the designs and thinking, it’s almost there, but there needs to be something more. I had seen Brittany Myers’ work on the internet: She had done a wonderful painting of Ariel (The Little Mermaid). There was something different and better about her approach. She was pushing and stretching things in a new way. So I started to imitate her way of drawing and I liked what it was doing for me.
Our producer Gennie asked me if I’d like her to work on the movie. She has a way of building the right team. So we brought her and Jin Kim, with whom I had worked on Tangled, and we designed these characters. They are three-dimensional, soft characters that feel like they have blood in their veins. It’s something that I learned from the Nine Old Men at Disney. It’s so much about sincerity in the eyes of the characters. So much of the performance is about animating the moment of discovery when an idea happens, and you can truly see it in their eyes.
It has been such a strange and difficult year for everyone. What do you hope audiences will take away from this movie when it screens in the fall?
To me, it’s amazing Gennie and I got to do this wonderful film with Kobe Bryant, Dear Basketball, which expressed something that was so personal and such a life message for him. For this movie, Audrey Wells wrote this story knowing that she wasn’t going to be around much longer, and she put this movie in our hands to communicate that message. It’s such a privilege, and we took that very seriously, wanting this film to be as entertaining, fun, emotional and deeply applicable to our own lives.
Ultimately, the film is about opening yourself up to love somebody new. We knew it had to be a musical, and so it features eight songs by our team (Christopher Curtis, Marjorie Duffield and Helen Park). The story is told through these songs. I want people to come away from the movie singing the songs, which are truly wonderful. I would also like them to value the importance of love and cherishing the people in your life.