Facing your fears takes on a wholly literal and fantastical turn in Netflix’s latest animated feature Orion and the Dark. Charlie Kauffman, best known for writing Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), pens a rather sweet bedtime story that will provide a novel experience for the kids while taking their parents down a nostalgia-filled journey.
Adapting Emma Yarlett’s book of the same name, Orion and the Dark lets its protagonist introduce himself, and 11-year-old Orion (Jacob Tremblay) does so by wasting no time in listing out his fears. A few minutes in, the audience may think they know Orion as well as his parent — after all, he has drawn out all his vulnerabilities in a journal for us — but Kauffman’s writing and Sean Charmatz’s direction ensure that there is always more to look forward to from Orion. A little too on edge about everything that surrounds him, he is especially afraid of the dark, and he deals with it by asking it to leave him alone. Dark, it turns out, has other plans, because he soon emerges from the shadows of Orion’s room to set the record straight.
Voiced by Paul Walter Hauser, and shrouded in a large cloak, Dark has an air of casualness about him when he first appears in Orion’s room. This is soon dissipated when he admits that it hurts him to be perceived negatively by others. “So much of how you see yourself is through the eyes of others,” he says, convincing Orion to see him at work to realise that bringing darkness to people’s lives is not all it’s cut out to be.
Orion and the Dark (English)
Director: Sean Charmatz
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Angela Bassett, Colin Hanks, Natasia Demetriou, Nat Faxon, and others
Runtime: 90 minutes
Storyline: Orion, an 11-year-old boy who is terrified of the day, must overcome his greatest fear, when it finally comes face to face with him.
Orion and Dark set forth, shrouding the world in blackness, as Dark’s colleagues follow behind. We learn that Sleep (Natasia Demetriou), Quiet (Aparna Nancherla), and Sweet Dreams (Angela Bassett) make our nights possible, but there is also plenty of work for Insomnia (Nat Faxon) and Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel) to accomplish.
Here the film may seem to resemble greater hits like Inside Out (2015), and there are writing choices in the same vein that seek to humanise unseeable ideas. But, Orion and the Dark charts its own path moving forward as Dark and Orion mutually seek to overcome their anxieties. If Orion is tired of being constantly bullied in school and is nervous to talk to Sally in his class, Dark too is fed up with being outshone by Light (Ike Barinholtz) and afraid that his night friends may one day leave him for brighter pastures.
Kauffman infuses the plot with these complex emotions, and does so with sensitivity, while being acutely aware of avoiding mistakes made in other animated films that seek an easier, instant resolve. The protagonists, especially, are written to deliver a layered and consistently engaging performance. Kauffman also takes risks in diverging the plot to move between the future and the past, as an adult Orion tells this story to his daughter (Mia Akemi Brown) who is eager to add her own elements to it.
At times taking on too much for its plate, Orion and the Dark ultimately wrap things up in a subtler, sweeter manner. The considered writing, understated direction, and excellent voice acting elevate a rather simple plot and provide a cozy watch.
Orion and the Dark is available for streaming on Netflix