Charlie Kaufman’s animated Netflix movie Orion and the Dark is a deeply weird gem

At first look, Netflix and DreamWorks’ new youngsters’ movie Orion and the Dark looks like normal animated fare: There’s a little boy who’s terrified of the darkish, which then involves life and exhibits him the wonders of the night time, educating him learn how to overcome his fears.

Nevertheless it will get quirky. Extraordinarily quirky, really, in ways in which solely begin to make sense once you discover out the script comes from Charlie Kaufman, author of Being John Malkovich, Everlasting Sunshine of the Spotless Thoughts, and Adaptation, amongst different twist-heavy films. (He beforehand labored with Netflix on the deeply nightmarish I’m Considering of Ending Issues.) What begins out as a candy fairy story turns into a metatextual romp that spirals in and out of itself, and will get deeply weird and weirdly deep. Sean Charmatz’s debut animated characteristic is an odd little gem that defies expectations.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Orion and the Dark.]

Picture: DreamWorks Animation

Based mostly on a picture book by Emma Yarlett, Orion and the Dark follows Orion (Jacob Tremblay), an anxious boy who’s nervous about every little thing. He’s terrified of speaking to his crush, he’s terrified of haircuts, he’s terrified of the bleak nothingness that awaits him after demise. However most of all, he’s terrified of the darkish. One night time, the personification of darkness (aptly referred to as Dark, and performed by Paul Walter Hauser) seems to him and swears he’ll assist Orion recover from his concern by introducing him to the different nighttime deities: Candy Desires (Angela Bassett), Sleep (Natasia Demetriou), Insomnia (Nat Faxon), Quiet (Aparna Nancherla), and Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel).

All of those characters have enjoyable, individualistic designs that basically hammer residence their natures and objective. After all Insomnia could be a tiny mosquito-like creature, whereas Candy Desires could be ethereally lovely. The animation is unexpectedly attractive, most of it completed in a notably tactile-looking CG designed to hearken again to the unique guide’s pencil-and-paper illustrations, whereas nonetheless being 3D-rendered. It’s completely different from the ordinary DreamWorks home fashion, but additionally not the similar as different DreamWorks stylized films like Puss in Boots: The Final Want and The Unhealthy Guys. It’s a distinctive look tailor-made to the movie’s storybook roots.

The movie begins off following the path of a simple little fairy story — till it doesn’t. This is a Charlie Kaufman script, in spite of everything. Orion and the Dark is nonetheless a Rise of the Guardians or Inside Out-style romp about legendary creatures and the personifications of summary ideas serving to a younger boy navigate life’s perils. However about a quarter of the method by, we study that the story of Orion and the Dark is being advised by older Orion (Colin Hanks) to his daughter Hypatia (Mia Akemi Brown). Initially, that’s simply a cute framing machine about a father making an attempt to assist his daughter recover from her personal fears, a bit like The Princess Bride, with periodic interjections by each events.

A tiny green mosquito-like creature, a very small white fluffy mouse being, an ethereal purple-pink being, a fluffy blue monster with a big nose, and a golden robot all sit around a table playing poker.

Picture: DreamWorks Animation

However because it seems, grown-up Orion isn’t so certain of himself, or his potential to inform the story. His scenario will get meta, then much more meta, turning what’s already a pretty movie with enjoyable characters into a deeper rumination on anxiousness and rising up. It’s a robust story about concern that acknowledges being scared as a a part of life — a half that doesn’t really feel good. And it admits that rising up isn’t a magical antidote for childhood fears.

The movie’s largest flaw is that it spends a little an excessive amount of time with younger Orion, to the level the place it nearly looks like he’s solved his issues about midway by the story. That signifies that with a purpose to increase the stakes once more, Kaufman introduces a contrived hiccup that feels extra like a irritating backpedal in Orion’s character improvement than a pure development. However fortunately, as soon as the movie pulls in older Orion and Hypatia, it kicks into full gear and makes use of them to their fullest potential.

By the finish, Orion and the Dark has boldly reworked into a delightfully eccentric story, taking over much more metatextual layers. Nevertheless it by no means loses its coronary heart: It’s nonetheless a bedtime story, a dad or mum and youngster working collectively to assemble an ending that satisfies the each of them. Their voices mix in a convincing method, with zany, kid-fueled concepts on one hand, and the cautious guiding hand of an grownup on the different. However youngster and dad or mum each study one thing from the different, and that turns Orion and the Dark from a easy fairy story into a superbly weird experience, and lastly into a movie with a message that hits deeply for each adults and youngsters.

Orion and the Dark is streaming on Netflix now.

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