Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: DreamWorks' "ORION AND THE DARK" Takes on Childhood Fears

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 12 of 2024 (No. 1956) by Leroy Douresseaux

Orion and the Dark (2024)
Running time:  93 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
MPA – not rated
DIRECTOR:  Sean Charmatz
WRITERS:  Charlie Kaufman (based on the book by Emma Yarlett)
PRODUCER:  Peter McCown
EDITOR:  Kevin Sukho Lee
COMPOSERS:  Kevin Lax and Robert Lydecker


Starring:  (voices): Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Colin Hanks, Mia Akemi Brown, Ike Barinholtz, Nat Faxon, Golda Rosheuvel, Natasia Demetriou, Aparna Nancherla, Carla Gugino, Matt Dellapina, Nick Kishiyama, Shino Nakamichi, Werner Herzog, and Angela Bassett


Orion and the Dark is a unique animated film that is about a child learning to accept fear as a part of life without letting it control him.

Orion and the Dark has an eclectic cast full of surprising characters, but Orion and Dark are this film's winning pair.

Orion and the Dark is a good family film, especially for parents and for children who are of middle grade age and younger.  I find it to be too deep in its feelies, but it will tug on the heartstrings of its intended audience.

Orion and the Dark is a 2024 animated fantasy-adventure and comedy-drama film directed by Sean Charmatz and produced by DreamWorks Animation.  The film is animated by French production company, Mikros Animation, and is also a “Netflix Original” that began streaming on Netflix February 2, 2024.

Orion and the Dark is based on the 2015 children's book, Orion and the Dark, from author Emma Yarlett.  Orion and the Dark the movie focuses on a boy whose active imagination causes him to be scared of everything and on the entity that takes him on an incredible journey.

Orion and the Dark introduces 11-year-old Orion Mendelson (Jacob Tremblay).  He is a severely anxious child with a long list of irrational fears.  He is a schoolboy with a fear of speaking in front of class, being bullied, ending up in a toilet, and a fear of speaking to Sally (Shino Nakamichi), the girl of his dreams, of course.  Outside of school, he also has a bunch of fears, including the fear of getting eaten by a shark, but at home its is worse.

Orion is afraid of the night, especially of the dark and of all the dark places in his bedroom.  Orion's father (Matt Dellapina) and mother (Carla Gugino) have a difficult time getting him to bed.  One night a giant, smiling creature slithers into his room.  He introduces himself as “Dark,” the embodiment of Orion's worst fear, the dark.  Tired of hearing Orion's constant complaints about him (the dark), Dark takes the 11-year-old on an adventure to help him overcome his fears and to appreciate the benefits of nighttime and of the dark.  But there are plenty of dangers along the way, including Dark's rival, “Light” (Ike Barinholtz), and Orion's own deep-seated fears.

Orion and the Dark is a beautifully animated film with simple, but evocative character and concept design.  It took me awhile to remember that Orion and the Dark reminds me of the 2014 DreamWorks Animation film, Mr. Peabody & Sherman.  Both films share a visual aesthetic, possibly because artist and designer, Timothy Lamb, served as the production designer on the two films.  Both films also convey their fantastical settings and surreal environments via eye-appealing art and design that have a children's picture book quality.  

I do have one gripe about Orion and the Dark.  The film does have a heart – a center – which is that both Orion and Dark have to learn something about themselves and to overcome self-doubt.  The film, however, also has sentiment, and it is, at times, exceedingly sentimental, which can be both heartwarming and saccharine.  Orion and the Dark is sometimes too much in its emotions and feelies, so much so that by the end, I thought the film was trying to give me an insulin attack.  Orion and the Dark pounds on its parent-child themes and dynamics with schmaltzy consistency.

I want to avoid spoilers.  Still, I will say that Orion and the Dark does have a time-travel subplot courtesy of screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), who is known for creating elaborate, twisty, meta screenplays.  Orion and the Dark has several interesting supporting characters, especially Dark's fellow “Night Entities,” so many so that I could see it becoming an animated television series.  Orion and the Dark is unique and quite well made, and many may find its heartwarming insistence just what we need in these dark times.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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