A trio of songwriters — Christopher Curtis, Helen Park and Marjorie Duffield — created the tunes at the heart of animated musical “Over the Moon,” the story of a young girl with a passion for science who seeks to prove the existence of the legendary Moon Goddess in the tales her recently departed mom would tell her. The film’s anthemic central song, “Rocket to the Moon,” distributed by Milan Records and available Aug. 28, will be the first taste of the much-anticipated picture, coming to Netflix in the fall.
The movie marks the directing debut of longtime animator Glen Keane, who has worked on Disney classics including “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It stars Cathy Ang as the voice of 12-year-old Fei Fei, who remembers her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) regaling her with the Chinese folktale of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo of “Hamilton”), the goddess who holds the secret of immortality. As her father (John Cho) prepares to remarry, Fei Fei struggles to adjust to her new life and spends her time building a rocket ship that can reach Chang’e. The cast also includes Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh and Margaret Cho.
Curtis (the Broadway musical “Chaplin”), Park (Off-Broadway musical “KPOP”) and lyricist Duffield spent two weeks working together in Los Angeles writing the songs, bouncing ideas off one another: One person would write a line, and the others would jump in.
The three all connected to Audrey Wells’ script about overcoming loss and learning to love again. For “Rocket to the Moon,” they felt Fei Fei’s emotional journey should be the star, and also aimed to serve the film’s embrace of the power of imagination. Park compares the song to Ariel’s “Part of Your World” from “A Little Mermaid” as the moment when the audience becomes invested in the protagonist’s odyssey.
Yet it was the image of the little girl staring up into the sky that gave the “Rocket to the Moon” its starting point: “I look up in the heavens and I see your face / Your gentle eyes in moonlight, I feel your warm embrace” — “There was such a longing in that initial visual,” Duffield says.
Curtis and Park wrote the music to the bridge together. Curtis, who lost his younger brother as a teenager, connected to the movie’s theme of the difficulties of letting go. He wrote the lyrics to the hook of the chorus in which Fei Fei wants to “fly away” as the music becomes brighter and more whimsical. Park, who says she spent a great deal of time moving from place to place while growing up, wanted to convey a sense of needing to belong and to heighten the song’s sense of urgency.
The bridge features a legato melody that represents Fei Fei’s love for her family as well as an increasing syncopation that shows her drive to build the rocket ship as she sings, “What could a girl like me possibly do?”
Curtis credits Duffield with writing his “favorite lyric” in the song, an empowering couplet that alludes to young girls and science: “F is force, of course, / And G is always gravity.”
Ang, who sings the tune, says that the songwriters made adjustments to accommodate her vocal range, “so it felt natural.” She says she hopes the music will inspire young girls and help them to connect with the life-affirming Chinese folktale at its core.
Because “Rocket to the Moon” will be heard before the film is released, Ang envisions social media platforms flooded with “all these kids covering the song.” After all, she says, “it’s coming from the heart of a 12-year-old.”