The increasingly trippy visuals are the big draw in this American-Chinese animation, which plays out like Studio Ghibli defanged by Disney. Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) is a young girl, living an idyllic life in an idyllic rural Chinese town. Her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) tells her stories about the moon goddess Chang’e, who mourned for her dead partner Hou Yi. But in a delicately handled first few minutes, Fei Fei’s mum passes away and we skip forward four years, as Fei Fei’s father brings a new girlfriend home for the first time, much to his daughter’s confusion and upset.
It’s a fairly minor-key start, in which the only note of escapism is Fei Fei’s prodigiously intelligent (not to mention long-lived) pet bunny Bungee.
Then Fei Fei decides she’s going to fly to the moon to meet Chang’e, at which point things take a turn for the bizarre. The little girl (and her rabbit, her stowaway stepbrother and his pet frog) successfully makes it into space in a homemade rocket, and arrives in Chang’e’s oddball kingdom, a fantastical realm attuned to its queen’s mood, populated by… really weird things, from giant space frogs and huge motorbike-riding chicks to a sort of needy green space dog.
It’s all nice enough, and some of the visuals are astonishing, but it never quite feels easy in its own skin, and its desire to let rip visually frequently stumbles over the intrinsic sobriety of its storytelling. It’s lightly sprinkled with tunes – Broadway-esque musical numbers and a couple of K-poppy bangers – but there aren’t many, and it always feels a touch forced whenever anybody bursts into song. A cynic might suggest it’s a homage to the east Asian fantasy animation made by a white American creative team – headed by directors Glen Keane and John Kahrs – who are just a little too straitlaced to entirely carry it off.
But that doesn’t make it a dud, and its compassionate look at childhood bereavement plus nutsoid visuals are ultimately both Good Things. Not a classic, but still quite a trip.