Orion and the DarkPG
It’s been twenty years since writer Charlie Kaufman won his Oscar for writing the phenomenal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Since then however, the writer of such sublime films such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation., has been less than prolific with his output, with this being his first new work since 2020’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
But despite it being an animation, there’s no denying the Kaufman factor.
11-year-old Orion (Jacob Tremblay) is a mental wreck; he is constantly worrying about issues in his life, such as being stung by bees, or mobile phone radiation, or even a girl he likes liking him back.
But he doesn’t restrict these irrational fears to just school, as he takes them home with him too. His biggest one comes at night, just as he’s getting ready for bed, and that is – the dark. It vexes him so much that not only does his bedroom door have to remain as open as it can be, but he has to have an army of night lights to fully illuminate his room.
And then one night, he is forced to face this fear – literally – as the Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) enters his room and confronts him. He knows how Orion feels about him, but he wants to change his mind, and all he has to do is spend the next 24 hours with him.
Orion unwillingly agrees, as he sets off with the Dark on an adventure that may well open his eyes.
On the surface at least, this could best be described as Monsters Inc. meets Inside Out, with just a light sprinkling of The Snowman thrown in for good measure.
But Kaufman, as you would expect, goes a little deeper than that, with what is an animated psychological profile of a troubled young mind. For instance, the pair are joined on their journey by the likes of Insomnia (Nat Faxon), Sleep (Natasia Demetriou), Quiet (Aparna Nancherla), Sweet Dreams (Angela Bassett) and Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel), who all exist in the darkest recesses of everyone’s minds.
It is playful, and yet quite thought-provoking, and you could completely see it used as an exercise for any youngsters in therapy. As a piece of entertainment, it’s almost like youth, wasted on the young, as they are bound to miss the underlying messages that exist. But that’s OK, they will always be there, and there’s nothing wrong in just enjoying it as a curious animation.
Kaufman isn’t a stranger to the animated world, having written, directed and produced 2015’s Anomalisa, that although animated, was very much produced for an adult audience. This however, steps on the toes of the likes of recent Pixar, with their titles such as Inside Out and Soul, but is far superior in presenting more mature themes for a younger audience, so much so that the differences are night and day.
This is an artful and thoughtful piece of storytelling, that both engages and entertains, that sees Kaufman present many of his recurring themes, but beautifully re-worked for a younger audience.
It manages to shine a light on mental health issues affecting the young, but with lashings of creativity and imagination, that may well also help take the fear out of some of the anxieties that they may be facing.
With so many mediocre animated features of late, Orion and the Dark is a truly impressive piece of work, that also happens to be sharply entertaining, and finds Kaufman once more at his thought-provoking best.