Today is the premiere of Over The Moon, a new animated film streaming on Netflix. The movie follows the otherworldly adventures of a young Chinese girl named Fei Fei.
At first, her life is picture perfect. Her parents own a bakery that specializes in moon cakes (a festive treat that we highly recommend!). Her favourite thing is the yearly Moon Festival and her mother's stories of Chang'e (say CHUNG-uh), the moon goddess who waits for all eternity for her love, Hou Yi.
But when tragedy strikes her family, Fei Fei feels lost. Now older, her world is changing. She's getting an annoying new brother she doesn't want, and it feels as though she is the only one who really misses the way things used to be. So this budding young engineer and dreamer comes up with a plan—she will fly herself to the Moon to see Chang'e for herself and rekindle the spirit of her younger days.
Fei Fei speaks!
The film is awesome—full of great songs, lots of Chinese folklore and culture, eye-popping animation and characters, and the magnificent Chang'e, a goddess who is part pop star, part sorceress.
But, of course, the real star is Fei Fei herself, played by actor Cathy Ang. Incredibly, this is Ang's first voice role in a feature film. And wow, does she NAIL it—she doesn't just speak the role, she sings most of the songs, too. What a talent!
We spoke with her about the film and her love of acting and singing.
OWLconnected: When did you first know you wanted to act?
Cathy Ang: When I was growing up, I always loved to sing. Music was a huge part of my family's life. We're Chinese-Filipino and as we had karaoke all the time (laughs). So I loved movie musicals and musicals in general, but I didn't really get into acting until college. So it was a little bit late compared to some people, but you know, I fell in love with (acting) immediately. Just getting to explore humanity in all of these different ways was very exciting and since then I just can't stop!
OC: You've done a lot of theatre acting before this movie. What was it like making the jump to voice acting in a feature film?
CA: (Theatre taught me) how to connect to a story—to read a story and understand it and really build a character. That's really the same process. But in animation, we don't have the same limits in the stories that we can tell. So it was very exciting for me to imagine being on the Moon in this movie. And also, there's just so much time to play in the studio—there's no one way to read the line. You kind of experiment (with) 70 different reads! It's a lot of play and collaboration with the animators to figure out what the final character is really going to be.
OC: How fully designed was Fei Fei and her character when you started on the project? Did she evolve as you began to act?
CA: I came in pretty early on. They had me do the demo [or demonstration] recording, so they hadn't storyboarded everything. But Glen Keane, our director, had definitely had a design of Fei Fei in mind. So he would just sit and sketch her for me so I could see maybe how this girl stands in the world.
He just asked me to bring myself to her. Then [the animators] designed her expressions around my face! They brought a camcorder in during all studio sessions, so that the animator could also make sure that the way that [Fei Fei's] eyebrow moves is a little bit like mine. So it was really cool! I felt like even though it wasn't a live action movie, I was still a part of the final [visual] product. Which was ... weird. (Laughs) But fun!
OC: How much did you know about the story of Chang'e before doing the film?
CA: I actually went to Chinese school as a kid, and so I learned about the folklore. I grew up with the story of Chang'e. But then this movie was really exciting to me—not just because I got to see a huge part of my family's heritage on screen—but also because we're getting to continue the story of Chang'e. To continue the folklore. Because we don't know what happens to her after she gets to the Moon! So it was really cool to be able to present this new version of the goddess in a way that I think people today will be able to relate to a little bit more, rather than just seeing her in her very traditional form.
OC: The film is mostly in English, but there is some Mandarin spoken, too. And there's a lot of Chinese culture—and delicious food!—on display. Was getting to celebrate these things in front of a North American audience a big part of wanting to do this film?
CA: Absolutely. I think it's a gift that right now the world is listening, you know? I think the world is looking for new stories. It's a gift to be able to share my family's culture and heritage, and I hope that AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] kids are going to be able to see themselves in this movie, and feel just affirmed by the rest of the world celebrating them.
I think that people will also get curious [about Chinese culture]—they'll want to learn more as they see the film. They might want to know more about what's on the dinner table, or learn more about Chang'e and what she means to Chinese people. So the fact that [the film] could also spark curiosity is exciting. Because when you learn about other cultures, you learn that there's actually a lot of connections to each other, and it makes the world a more interesting place.
OC: I'm also guessing a huge draw for you was that there was so much singing!
CA: Yeah! I grew up watching the Disney musical canon, so I've always wanted to do an animated movie musical. I think that singing is an elevation of storytelling. You get to learn more about the character because they're expressing themselves in a new way. So I'm really happy that this story is a musical. There are so many moments that deserve music.
And our songwriting team—there's a lot of different genres [styles] in the movie—but all of them are amazing songs that I hope people will want to sing themselves and dance to later on. It's like my dream to see all the covers of [main theme song] "Rocket To The Moon"! I just want to watch people sing it because it's so beautiful!
OC: It is! Thanks for the time, Cathy. It's a great movie!
CA: Thank you!
Get familiar with Over The Moon right now by watching the trailer below!