(CNN)With Disney invading Netflix’s streaming turf, turnabout is fair play, as “Over the Moon” overtly tries to emulate Disney animation without occupying its orbit. Although the movie is visually impressive, the Chinese-American co-production suffers from a too-thin story, built upon a heavy-handed message soaked in that oldest of Disney tropes: a dead mom.
Veteran Disney animator Glen Keane directed the film, which comes from China’s Pearl Studios, whose recent roster includes the uninspired “Abominable.” The story (written by the late Audrey Wells, who died in 2018, and to whom the movie is dedicated) derived from the Chinese myth of the moon goddess, who achieved immortality but lost her love, pining for him in the night sky.
Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang) also experiences loss when her mom becomes sick, after an introductory section in which the mother shares the tale and traditions of Chang’e, the aforementioned goddess. The girl is unprepared, however, when her dad (John Cho) meets a new woman, as Fei Fei hopes that a trip to the moon will remind him of the past and spare her from the prospect of a not-at-all-wicked stepmother.
The film then embarks on a colorful flight of fancy, one with so many touchstones of past Disney movies it’s tough to count them all. There’s the boy stowaway a la “Up,” the cheerful fast-talking fantastic sidekick echoing “Frozen” (manically voiced by Ken Jeong), the colorful spectacle of “Wreck-It Ralph,” and a whole lot of soaring but generally unmemorable songs.
The last items on that roster sound fine, thanks in part to having “Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo as Chang’e, who demands that Fei Fei present her an unspecified “gift” in order to earn the proof that she seeks. That portion of the film conspicuously drags, laboring to get from Fei Fei saying “I just want things back the way they were” to, rather sweetly, accepting the way they are.
Keane directed the Oscar-winning Kobe Bryant short “Dear Basketball,” and clearly learned the tricks of the trade during his time at Disney, with the movie appearing pretty desperate to conjure that sort of magic.
Alas, that’s not enough to reach the heady space that separates the best of the Disney/Pixar movies from something like “Over the Moon,” a bright, shiny object that never quite escapes the bonds of Earth.
“Over the Moon” premieres Oct. 23 on Netflix.