Orion and the Dark

Directed By Sean Charmatz

Starring – Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Colin Hanks

The Plot – Orion (Tremblay) seems a lot like your average elementary school kid shy, unassuming, harboring a secret crush. But underneath his seemingly normal exterior, Orion is a ball of adolescent anxiety, completely consumed by irrational fears of bees, dogs, the ocean, cell phone waves, murderous gutter clowns, and even falling off of a cliff. But of all his fears, the thing he’s the most afraid of is what he confronts on a nightly basis: the dark. So when the literal embodiment of his worst fear pays a visit, Dark (Hauser) whisks Orion away on a roller coaster ride around the world to prove there is nothing to be afraid of in the night. As the unlikely pair grows closer, Orion must decide if he can learn to accept the unknown to stop letting fear control his life and finally embrace the joy of living.

Rated TV-Y7 for mild language

ORION AND THE DARK | Official Trailer | New DreamWorks Movie (2024) (youtube.com)


Dreamworks doesn’t typically dive into the existential aspects of life that Pixar films typically thrive on, but “Orion and the Dark” is a thought-provoking and refreshing exploration into social anxieties, all seen through the eyes of one troubled child. What works about this film is the simplicity of its set-up, with insight into elements about childhood fears that many adult audiences will undoubtedly familiarize themselves with, while children get lost in the luster of the imaginative animation, with much versatility to its constructs. It helps that Charmatz biggest undertaking to date flourishes with the kind of fantastically imaginative essence that kids movies practically demand, with an equally encapsulating score from Kevin Lax and Robert Lydecker that only further pushes Orion’s uncomfortability, but it matters so much more when the animation itself is up to the task of meeting him halfway, here illustrating a beautifully vibrant world full of dreamlike animation from the confines of a child’s mind, which are realized with a rich tapestry of computer-generated and hand drawn visuals that make this stand out beneficially from typical Dreamworks illustrations. On top of this, the characters are very appealing in everything from the outlines of their characteristics and inhabitions, to the execution of their vocal performances from this warmly charming actors. On the former, Orion’s most defining characteristic is the phobias that limit and confine so much of his life, but it’s never in ways that feel overtly exaggerated or even annoying to the ways the character comes across to the audience, instead feeling like a prisoner of his own paranoia that we invest and even depend upon him to get out. Likewise, I love that Dark in this sense is a physical manifestation that watches over the people of the world as a guardian of sorts, and one who ultimately Orion comes to depend upon to get over his less adventurous spirit for the urgencies of life. Both of these characters are performed remarkably by Tremblay and Hauser, respectively, with Tremblay enacting a believably hesitant persistence towards Orion’s everyday interactions, and Hauser reaching deeper for a gravely yet energetically balanced approach to the Dark that at least immediately made his vocal range unrecognizable to my interpretation. Because of such, the film is best when it focuses purely on this warm and alluring dynamic of a little boy learning to trust the thing that he fears the most, but even when the film’s script, by Charlie Kaufman of all people, overcomplicates itself to tread the dark and convoluted waters that condemn kids movies, I still found their bond as the metaphor for the heart that drives the narrative, especially as the film’s inferior second half leans so heavily into the emotional core between them that has been developed through an array of knowledge-attaining explorations throughout this crazily unpredictable night. This is where the film seamlessly achieves its evidential but effective message to its youthful audience, in which we must rise against the fear that we often let control our lives, for the better of living life to its fullest extent. While this certainly isn’t an original message to enact in a kids movie, it does feel all the more prophetic after the events of our world during the last few years, especially with the added irony of watching this on a streaming platform that has been made all the more popular with a pandemic that made it difficult to even step outside of your safe haven. It’s appreciative that this film, and any kids movie for that matter, relishes in the fearless approach that deviates away from comfort and conventionalism, and while anxieties might not permeate over people as harshly or unforgiving as some others, it nonetheless teaches us about their struggle in ways that transcribes vital insight to an outsider’s perspective, in turn finding new and creative methods to articulate internal struggles to external manifestations.


Being adapted from a 40-page children’s novel of the same name, “Orion and the Dark” does occasionally feel the elasticity of its storytelling, especially in a second half that flies off of the rails with the fantastically surreal that doesn’t work in the world established by Kaufman. As a huge Charlie Kaufman fan myself, it’s the single biggest aspect that allured me to the project, but I can also recognize that his brand of subverted and psychological stimulation probably wasn’t best for the integrity of the product, especially when marketed for child audiences where most of the material will soar over their heads without recollection. While I can thoroughly appreciate a film that inscribes something meaningful to both sides of the audience demographic, I can safely say that the film’s climax convolutes itself in ways that essentially wasn’t required, especially in a clashing of respective timelines and familial characters that stands as the single biggest change between literary to cinematic adapting. This leads to one of my other issues with the film, where a strange and unnecessary framing device drives the second half of the narrative to cross-generational storytelling, which creates many unique problems of its own. For starters, because we’re shown Orion at a different age bracket in his life, somewhere in the future, it removes any semblance of urgency or uncertainty that he ever got over his conflict. While this could be expected in a kids movie where happy endings come more often than not, it still doesn’t excuse that it oversteps the magnitude of the conflict, long before the resolution can properly materialize. In addition to this, the framing also takes away focus from the story in the foreground of the narrative, between Orion, Dark and Dark’s cohorts, which completely drains accessibility and development between the three. This is what makes Orion and Dark as the only two compelling characters in the barrage of those introduced throughout the run time, but beyond that directly undercuts believability and attention to Orion’s own confrontation with fears, which even in the extent of the journey conveyed, I still can’t fully buy into the success factor that the movie subscribes to. Part of this could definitely stream from so much attention being taken away from his narrative in order to introduce the many side characters or the aforementioned secondary timeline, but either way it never feels like much has changed with his definint characterization, and as a result he only feels changed because the dialogue tells us such. It even has the desire to introduce new characters during the film’s final ten minutes, which feels like another unnecessary add-on at a time when the film and its conflict should be bringing it home.

“Orion and the Dark” is a refreshingly existential look into child anxieties and paranoias that most kid movies are afraid to tap into. Despite the film’s inferior second half flying off the rails with convoluted sprees of crossing timelines or dwindling character focus, Dreamworks latest is nevertheless a creatively smart and visually stunning exploration into adolescent psychologies that pays off brilliantly with Charmatz exaggeratedly expressive direction steering the ship.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

2 thoughts on “Orion and the Dark

  1. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this, but knowing that it was written by Charlie Kaufman, I guess I should’ve realized what I was diving into with existentialism that made this far more interesting and complex then I ever expected when just looking at the poster. I definitely agree with all your negatives, especially with the inferior second half that goes in some wild directions that really did not work. But the foundation of the film is so strong, especially with the animation and the themes that it’s hard not admire. Not sure if this will click more with adults or kids, but I’m glad I checked it out. Great work!

  2. This is a timely film for me, as I am experiencing a child that has a fear of the dark. I’m a little concerned that the script was written by Kauffman, as I am not a big fan of his work, and feel that it could be too existential for a child’s film. But I am definitely going to give it a chance and watch it with the family and hopefully it will dispel some of those fears. I like the main actors, and the plot sounds interesting. We’ll see how it goes!

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