‘Orion and the Dark’ Review: Should You Watch Netflix’s New Animated Film?

The latest Netflix Original animated film, Orion and the Dark, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?

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Orion And The Dark Netflix Movie Review

Picture: Netflix

Produced by Dreamworks Animation, Orion and the Dark marks the feature film directorial debut for veteran storyboard artist Sean Charmatz (Trolls, The Angry Birds Movies, SpongeBob Squarepants) based on a script from legendary writer/director Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

Based on the children’s book of the same name by Emma Yarlett, the story centers around young schoolboy Orion, who lives every day in constant irrational fear. He’s scared of tons of things: bees, dogs, the ocean, cell phone waves, murderous gutter clowns, and even falling off a cliff. But of all his fears, the thing he’s most afraid of is what he confronts on a nightly basis: the Dark. So when the literal embodiment of his worst fear pays him a visit, the Dark whisk 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.

Featuring an incredibly deep cast of voice talent, the film stars Critics’ Choice Award winner Jacob Tremblay (Luca, The Little Mermaid) as young Orion. Tremblay previously voiced Elmer Elevator for Netflix’s original animated film My Father’s Dragon back in 2022. Alongside Tremblay, the film also stars Cobra Kai’s Paul Walter Hauser as Dark, Oscar nominee Angela Bassett as Sweet Dreams, MadTV’s Ike Barinholtz as Light, What We Do In The Shadows standout Natasia Demetriou as Sleep, Bridgerton’s Golda Rosheuvel as Unexplained Noises, German Filmmaker & Voice God Werner Herzog, Fall of the House of Usher’s Carla Gugino as Orion’s Mom, and Roswell’s Colin Hanks as Adult Orion.

While the big names in the cast might bring the adults to the party, the success of this film belongs to the creative subject matter and the always uniquely creative writing of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Picking up the mantle from seminal Pixar films like Inside Out & Finding Nemo, Orion and the Dark focuses on children who are plagued by the emotions that control them every day. In an educational world that increasingly focuses on social emotional learning in the classroom at early ages, this story feels in touch with its audience in an impactful way – an audience that is not only the children who face adolescent anxiety, but the adults who, not only help their children cope with these issues, but also grew up in a generation that most likely didn’t have the support to help with their own anxieties from youth and into adulthood.

The safe hands of Kaufman, words not many would think to write if you’ve watched the outlandishly brilliant yet audacious films Kaufman has written over the years, guide us through generations of genetic predisposition to anxiety with a layered story told by a father through the prism of his younger self to his daughter who is facing the same issue of fearing the dark at bedtime. The construction of the script switches around from a narrated introduction to the world of Young Orion to an evolving bedtime from a father to daughter; one that the Father allows the daughter to help shape and mold as the movie progresses. The lessons of the story are imparted by the young and old alike, rallying around the notions of acknowledging & embracing fear while learning to not let those fears get in the way of living your life. Who knows? You may miss out on a new experience, a new love, or a new best friend.

orion and the dark netflix february 2024

Picture: Netflix

While the life lessons are important, and the acknowledgment of adolescent mental health is paramount, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how funny, sweet, & satisfying the film can be over its impressively tight 90-minute runtime. With lines like “Fun is just a word people made up to make danger sound more appealing,” even the anxious musings of a young child will make you laugh on a deeper level. The addition of the “Night Entities” – Insomnia, Quiet, Sleep, Sweet Dreams, & Unexplained Noises – to the story (not part of the original children’s book) give the older audiences a chance to take laugh at the things that keep them up at night while adding a layer of adventure & relationship building to the 24 hour excursion for Orion and the Dark. Also, if you don’t get a chuckle from hearing Werner Herzog narrate the films of The Dark, we can’t be friends. It is unquestionably amusing.

The film also boasts solid computer animation from the team at Mikros Animation, especially with the movements of the more ethereal characters like Dark & Sweet Dreams, and a fun, knowing soundtrack that drops tracks from the likes of Tame Impala & The Flaming Lips. Playing “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” is almost a cheat code as Orion turns the corner on how awesome it is to be with Dark.

Orion And The Dark U 00 24 39 04

Cr: DreamWorks Animation © 2023

Overall, Orion and the Dark is another win for Netflix’s Original animated movies. With a brilliant script boldly constructed as one part bedtime story and one part coping mechanisms for anxiety disorders, the film feels present with our modern society and in touch with the emotions of a more sensitive culture. Inside Out 2 looks like it will address anxiety as a follow-up to its fresh take on the feelings of dramatic change back in 2015, but don’t let this film get past you right now. Charlie Kaufman & first-time feature film director Sean Charmatz combine to make an entertaining ride that should be shown in schools.


Watch Orion and the Dark If You Like

  • Inside Out
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Onward
  • Finding Nemo
  • Spirited Away
  • Leo

MVP of Orion and the Dark

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman

Why do adults get all the fun of existential dread & neurotic self-loathing?!

This is the brain of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. A man who has created some of the most high-strung & twitchy characters of the past 25 years, including my absolute favorite performance of Nicolas Cage playing Charlie Kaufman himself in Adaptation, now turns his sights on the ball of youthful trepidation that is Orion. However, because this is Kaufman, this is not a completely linear tale of a boy facing his fears; it’s a story of how those fears affected him as a child, how he expresses those fears in a story to his daughter as an adult, and how it benefited his daughter as she helps her own son when she gets older all while being a poignant yet entertaining bedtime story for kids and adults to share. One of the best screenwriters of my generation keeps finding ways to amaze me and my fellow millennials (yes, I’m an ELDER millennial) as we expose our own children to his genius.

4/5Good
★★★★☆

An ambitious film about facing fear & coping with anxiety from a screenwriter who knows a thing or two about anxious characters. Deep & impressive voice cast with solid direction from Sean Charmatz. A must-see for children & parents alike!

Written by

Andrew Morgan is a film critic & podcaster with 20 years of experience on the sets & offices of film & television. Current podcast host of the entertainment review show, Recent Activity. He lives in the Northeast of the United States.

 Poster Netflix 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."

Rating: TV-Y7
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Director: Sean Charmatz
Cast: Carla Gugino, Paul Walter Hauser, Natasia Demetriou
Added to Netflix: February 2nd, 2024


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