Written in the Stars
Legendary animator Glen Keane makes his
feature directorial debut with the musical
adventure Over the
When Glen Keane turned seven, his parents held a backyard birthday party for the future animation legend and creator of such beloved characters as Ariel (The Little Mermaid) and Rapunzel (Tangled). Unlike most childhood celebrations, this one included the promise of flight.Keane’s father told him that he’d borrowed a rocket ship from a friend at NASA. Moments later, the youngster, wearing a blindfold to protect the ship’s top-secret design, had climbed into the open-air cockpit and was soaring above the Arizona desert.“You hear this rumble,” Keane says. “You go up into the air, and you can feel the wind blowing on your face as you’re flying across the desert. You dip down into a lake. Finally, when you land and the blindfold’s removed, there’s my mom and dad — with a lawn chair. They had lifted me up in the air. There was a fan and a shortwave radio for the crackling sounds. There was the swimming pool for the lake. When I saw what they did, I was even more excited that it had all happened in my head.”
That early memory came back to life for Keane when he read the screenplay for Over the Moon, Netflix’s new animated musical, which finds its inspiration in a fantastical Chinese legend. The film marks Keane’s feature directorial debut; a previous collaboration with Kobe Bryant on the 2017 short Dear Basketball earned him an Academy Award.The story, scripted by the late Audrey Wells (The Hate U Give), follows young heroine Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang) as she travels to the stars in order to prove to her father that the moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) — who represents everlasting love in Fei Fei’s mind — waits eternally to be reunited with her soul mate. Fei Fei is convinced that if she’s successful in her quest, her father will abandon his plans to remarry. But Fei Fei’s encounter with Chang’e doesn’t go according to plan, and she’s soon thrown headlong into a spectacular, pop-fueled adventure.“The movies that I love are always movies that I can get lost in,” says Keane. “What I got to do with this movie was put an animation blindfold around people. I wanted them to believe everything the way I believed when I was a seven-year-old kid and we were going to go to the moon and back.”
Storyboard art by Minkyu Lee
Keane spoke about this transporting tale with Over the Moon storyboard artist and Oscar-nominated director Minkyu Lee (Adam and Dog) during CalArts Weekend.Minkyu Lee: What aspect of Over the Moon made you say, “Yes, I want to make this”?
Storyboard art by Minkyu Lee
What was her reaction when you wanted to add songs to the script?
GK: When I suggested this should be a musical, Audrey’s eyes lit up like, “Yes, thank you!” She didn’t write it as a musical, but reading the script, I couldn’t help but see that the elements of music were there. I kept thinking of Howard Ashman, lyricist for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, as he would launch the story forward with music. It became really clear to me that this was going to be a movie about the intelligence of Fei Fei and the experience of her heart and her mind.
Thinking about your drawings, when you animate the difference between, say, sadness and yearning — with a little turn of the neck, suddenly it just clicks: Yep, that’s yearning.
GK: Well, the difference between sadness and yearning, that’s as different as it gets. Seems like it might be similar, but it is not at all: One is fueled by hope.
Watch Over the Moon
on Netflix now.