One of the highlights of Annecy this year was a preview of Glen Keane’s new film, Over the Moon, a Netflix Original premiering this November. The Academy Award-winning director of Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball was a legendary Disney animator, bringing to life Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Beast in Beauty and the Beast, and other titular characters including Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Tarzan.
It’s fitting that the creative team of Over the Moon shared an update on the project at Annecy because that’s really where it started for Glen Keane. Producer Peilin Chou saw Glen Keane give a presentation at the international animated film festival in 2017 and realized in that moment that he was the perfect person to bring this story to life.
The film incorporates popular Chinese mythology about the moon goddess and jade rabbit, which is celebrated every fall through the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. It brought back happy childhood memories for Peilin Chou who had recently joined Pearl Studio in 2015 when she had the idea for the film. That’s when she hired Audrey Wells (George of the Jungle, The Kid, The Game Plan) to write a treatment. “She really is the heart and soul of this script,” Peilin shared. “We knew we wanted somebody that would be able to take a fantasy adventure, but do it in a way that felt real. That was fantastical, but also really funny and said something in a very meaningful way.”
Glen Keane wasn’t used to starting on a project that already has a clearly defined story. “It’s amazing when material comes to you and it feels like it’s written for you,” the director shared about feeling personally connected to the project. “For me, it’s believing the impossible is possible.” In the film, a twelve-year-old girl named Fei Fei builds her own rocket to travel to the moon to meet the goddess. Glen Keane shared a story about being a young boy and his parents telling him they had a secret rocket. They made him wear a blindfold and gave him a sensory experience that made him believe he really blasted off around earth. In a way, he felt like he was not doing that same thing for audiences. “That was the fun, making people believe it as much as I did when I was seven-years-old.”
A previous collaborator of Glen’s, Gennie Rim, had worked with him at Disney on what became Tangled and was a producer on Dear Basketball. “We knew that we needed to bring on a team that could support a very mighty task, but also feel very much like a family,” Gennie shared about her ability to create an environment that would work for Glen Keane.
“As we were starting to make this movie, one of the things that hit me is this is a musical,” Glen shared about his decision to add music to the film. “It wasn’t written that way, but it became clear to me.” He shared a story from working with Howard Ashman on The Little Mermaid who taught Glen that when you have a story that’s hard to express through dialogue, it’s easier for the audience if you have them sing about it. The songwriting team assembled includes Steven Price, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park.
Glen Keane brought on another former colleague from Disney to help co-direct the film, John Kahrs, who started at Pixar on a bug’s life and transitioned to Disney on films that include Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. “It was a challenge diving into this film halfway through, but I feel we have a shorthand after so many years,” John shared about being able to start in the middle of production with Glen. “We’re always going for the emotion and that’s something that felt very familiar about the film is going for that truth… What was different about this film I think is just the crazy surrealist Wizard of Oz vibe that it has.”
Another exciting element of the production was getting to work with fashion designer Guo Pei on costumes for the moon goddess. As luck would have it, she was doing a presentation in Montreal near the animation studio. While working with her, the translator had to leave and Glen was able to talk with her through drawings. “This was one of the highlights of my artistic life, just to connect with somebody in a purely drawing way,” he shared. She felt very freed when she discovered that she wasn’t limited by the physical challenges of gravity and human body dimensions on the film.
Shortly after the project started to pick up speed, writer Audrey Wells confided in Peilin that she was sick and dying and that this film would serve as a love letter to her husband and daughter, who would soon say goodbye to her. “We all feel like we were meant to be here at this time making this film,” Peilin shared about bringing Audrey Wells’ final film to life.
“We had so many challenges and struggles and life and death,” Glen Kean explained, “And somehow the film is always the better for the feelings, the emotions, the way it pulls our team together. Audrey’s death had a great impact on us and the resolve to drive deeper into the animation. The film has a power and potential unlike anything I’ve ever worked on before.”
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.