SYNOPSIS: A boy with an active imagination faces his fears on an unforgettable journey through the night with his new friend: a giant, smiling creature named Dark.
A little background on Orion and the Dark before we start the review proper. The animation is based on a children’s book by Emma Yarlett while Charlie Kaufman known for his offbeat movies liked Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wrote the screenplay.
You can’t expect it to be on the level of a typical Charlie Kaufman movie, it’s after all a title made for the younger audiences. Yet it’s arguably challenging and a bit convoluted at times.
Orion (Jacob Tremblay) is a boy who is scared of many things, in short he is crippled by daily anxieties, struggles to fit into school and life and is most afraid of the dark. One night, a smiling big entity named Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) visited him and whisked him away on a globe-trotting adventure and Orion also gets to meet Dark’s friends such as Sweet Dreams (Angela Bassett), Insomnia (Nat Faxon), Sleep (Natasia Demetriou) and cute little Quiet. They also encounter Dark’s nemesis, Light (Ike Barinholtz).
To a certain degree, Orion and the Dark fares like an unofficial sequel to Inside Out. While the latter focused on human emotions, the former explored on childhood fears. Kaufman uses comedy to sort of “explain” the complexities behind every fear and terror out there. In a way, the animation is telling youngsters that problems can be overcome and solutions are simply residing in your head.
There is a story within a story element that is pretty confusing at first as the animation sometimes cut to a grown-up Orion (Colin Hanks) telling a bedtime story of his adventure with him and Dark to his young daughter, Hypatia. You wonder if it’s indeed a fictional story invented by Orion or there’s more to the layered storytelling.
Although it’s a DreamWorks branded production, the animation is outsourced to Mikros Animation (Paw Patrol The Movie) which is generally passable though lacking the spirits and sparks of Pixar productions. Tremblay sounds a bit too old to be playing an 11-year-old with his voice cracking intermittently, the rest of the voice actors apparently didn’t make much of an impression either except Hauser giving Jack Black a run for his money.
While Orion and the Dark has it’s good intentions and messages to help children overcome their fears, the lack of laughs and over complicated story might deter viewers from reaching its finishing point. Even at 90 minutes, the twisty tale seems like an eternity.
Review by Linus Tee