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Film Review: ORION AND THE DARK (2024) – Dazzle to the Eye, Bittersweetness to the Heart, & Dullness to the Brain

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Jacob Tremblay Orion And The Dark

Orion and the Dark Film Review

Orion and the Dark (2024) Film Review, directed by Sean Charmatz, written by Charlie Kaufman, Emma Yarlett, and Lloyd Taylor, and starring Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Colin Hanks, Mia Akemi Brown, Nat Faxon, Angela Bassett, Aparna Nancherla, Natasia Demetriou, and Golda Rosheuvel.

Orion and the Dark (2024) is an animated comedy/adventure movie based on Emma Yarlett’s storybook of the same title. The film takes into consideration several standard aspects of a memorable kids’ movie, including entertaining visual elements, endearing characters, and emotional content that leaves an imprint on the viewer.  Indeed, Orion takes the viewer on a starlit journey thanks to which a little boy, Orion (Jacob Tremblay), confronts his fears. Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) becomes a warm-hearted mentor for Orion while also being transparent about his own insecurities. Their relationship captures the affectionate steward of the film, which is unexpectedly understated, with insufficient reflection about their friendship on Orion’s part. Despite the film’s success in creating a moderately captivating sequence and in showcasing a weight-pulling performance by Paul Walter Hauser, the bland, mind-numbing storytelling casts a pallor over the film. I offer this criticism with caution since it is a children’s movie; however, I am also aware that even a movie with this audience in mind can still provide mentally engaging content for all ages. (Consider, for example, James and the Giant Peach (1996) and Pinocchio (2022)).

A significant source of my irritability with this film is the lead character, Orion. Especially in the first half of the film, he is unidimensional, with his entire psychology mostly devoted to whether he is afraid of (x), (y), or (z), as indicated by the amount or absence of his screaming at all stimuli placed before him. By contrast, Dark is multifaceted, as not only is he an immortal nocturnal creature, but he is also notably pained by children’s fear of him. While the film predictably repeats the theme of chiaroscuro, there is a missed opportunity for the film to explore how the interplay between light and dark helps Orion not only be braver, but appreciate, internally, the implications of contrasts in his life. As grand and mystical as Orion’s travels are, they result in facile epiphanies as an insult to the capacity for young minds to process more enriching ideas from a film.

Orion and the Dark is not without its commendable features: topping the list is the chemistry between Orion and Dark. Not only is the notion of the personification of darkness as a tour guide endearing and a great setup for a movie, it creates a basis for the unlikely intimacy between Orion and Dark. Precisely because their relationship is heartwarming, it is unnerving that the story is written such that Orion lacks both insight into Dark’s feelings and awareness of the importance Dark has in his life. There is a scene during which Orion betrays Dark by making his nighttime crewmates, Insomnia (Nat Faxon), Quiet (Aparna Nancherla), Sweet Dreams (Angela Bassett), Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel), and Sleep (Natasia Demetriou) jump ship and become the followers of Light, Dark’s nemesis. This turn of events undermines the connection between Dark and Orion, which in turn weakens one of the only strong points of the movie. More consistent loyalty and care for Dark’s wellbeing would not only have made Orion likeable, but also made for a better-written story. At least the audience is able to see Dark’s other character traits, such as patience and forgiveness, as a result of Orion’s carelessness.

It appears as if the film were trying to disguise its storytelling flaws by hiding them in plain sight. One bizarre plot-driver is that the adult version of Orion (Colin Hanks) is improvising the story to his daughter, Hypatia (Mia Akemi Brown), who in turn gives it her own spin, later recounting it to her own child, Tycho (Nick Kishiyama). The effect on the viewer is that the story comes across as haphazard and patchworked, and Orion loses centrality in the process which causes the investment in his story to suffer. It is likely that the viewer is left to wonder if the screenwriters were at a loss and made these decisions at the last second.

The eye is certainly dazzled with the colorful presentation of the film. While Orion travels on Dark’s back, each transition between day and night is a breathless and sweeping change which shines out the stars and city lights. Additionally, Sweet Dreams takes the viewer into a vivid dreamscape representing the unconscious minds which she enters nightly. Interestingly, the weightlessness and brightness of the bodies and personalities of Dark and his compatriots, respectively, contrast the darkness they visually and audibly bring to the world.

Perhaps it is because the geographical and supernatural imaginations that went into the film were so superbly done that the rather lackluster artwork that went into the human characters stands out so uncomfortably. All the adults in the film are designed to come across as drab, boring, and well, old. The children move unnaturally, and their faces look generic and made for a TV show, not a feature film. I felt as if I were seeing a Jimmy Neutron cartoon spinoff, since their construction lacked cinematic impact.

I would like to leave this review on a personal reflection. There is a subtle nod to bittersweetness conveyed through the goodbyes of two friends. This moment made me grateful that I am not irony poisoned as a viewer who can still respond emotionally to a kids’ movie. The fact that the film can leave the viewer with a multitude of impressions makes me respect its artistic value even if I have my reservations with characterization and narrative stimulation. All in all, I was left hoping I could hug someone like Dark someday.

Rating: 5/10

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