Orion and the Dark is an animated adventure film that finds a sweet spot in mixing fun and fantastical escapades with underlying, crucial messages about mental health, childhood anxiety, and embracing one’s fears. Debut director Sean Charmatz alongside renowned screenwriter Charlie Kaufman helms the movie with a vision to illustrate the human psyche in a universally comprehensible way, drawing material from the eponymous book by Emma Yarlett.
The film features Jacob Tremblay as the voice of Orion, an anxiety-ridden boy trying to grapple with his extreme fears. From the outset, Tremblay adds depth and dimension to Orion’s character, expertly portraying his struggle with the menacing dark and the gory scenarios in his imagination. Supporting characters are brought to life with vocal panache by Paul Walter Hauser, Angela Bassett, Ike Barinholtz, and Natasia Demetriou, and they help enrich Orion’s inner world, both real and perceived.
The heart of Orion and the Dark is its visual storytelling. Charmatz, as a former Nickelodeon animator, clearly applies his artistic flair and nous for grandiose but intricate illustrations to imbue the movie with palpable ambiance and poignant visuals. Kaufman’s script contributes to creating surreal moments of Orion’s journey, however, there are portions where the narrative tends to dwindle, failing to maintain the coherence the story warrants.
Charmatz’s debut falls flat in terms of consistency. At times, Orion and the Dark‘s tempo becomes over-paced, resulting in a muddled, confused narrative. Nevertheless, the imagery woven into the film makes the tale aesthetically intriguing.
A star performer throughout the movie is Paul Walter Hauser, who gives life to Orion’s ultimate fear – the Dark. With his commendable voice-over skills, Hauser constructs a charming yet authoritative personality for the Dark. His exceptional rapport with Tremblay elevates the spirit of the story. It ends up grounding what could otherwise be an overwhelming series of wild fantasies.
An appreciated, thought-provoking approach in the film is how it acknowledges and showcases the vulnerability and challenges of dealing with fear and anxiety, specifically during one’s childhood years. Its aim to demonstrate that it is normal and okay to feel scared serves as a timely lesson, especially when such emotions can often be dismissed in real life.
That said, Orion and the Dark‘s comedy leans heavily on absurd and slapstick humour. It may not appeal to everyone. It fails to balance mature dialogue with wit, relying heavily on physical comedy to drive humour. Similarly, the climax can seem slightly predictable, with conventional plot points of transformation and catharsis.
The visuals, artistry, and production design are indisputably stunning. It captures both the magical wonder and dark horror that form Orion’s inner cosmos. They uphold the mystique, fear, and eventually the beauty that surrounds the unknown, effectively showcasing Charmatz’s brilliant capacity for artistry.
The voice performances deserve praise too. From Tremblay’s nuanced portrayal of Orion’s anxiousness to Bassett’s maternal Sweet Dreams, each actor enhances the film’s emotional environment. Bassett especially brings warmth and gentleness to the narrative with her performance, contrasting perfectly with the existential terrors Orion faces.
Orion and the Dark, while an artistic and poignant film, falls short on account of its pacing and lackluster comedy. Its merits lay within its honest depictions of childhood anxiety, bold animation style, and some strong voice performances. Charmatz’s directorial debut shows potential and an eye for distinct aesthetics.
Orion and the Dark Reveiw: An Artistic and Poignant Animation
- Acting - 8/108/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 8/108/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 6/106/10
- Setting/Theme - 6/106/10
- Watchability - 6/106/10
- Rewatchability - 4/104/10