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Scary Night to Starry Night: A Whimsical Animated Bedtime Story

A Review of Sean Charmatz’s Orion and the Dark

By Ma. Angeline NarnolaPublished about a month ago 4 min read
Photo Credits: Orion and the Dark Animated Film

Facing your fear takes a remarkably literal and whimsical turn in Netflix's latest animation, "Orion and the Dark," a charming bedtime story that offers a nuanced exploration of the familiar childhood fears every grade-school kid resonates with.

The film represents a truly unconventional adaptation of Emma Yarlett's imaginative and initially uncomplicated picture book of the same name. Charlie Kaufman, renowned as the writer of psychological dramas such as Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind (2004), brings his unique perspective that intricately transforms the source material to a wild direction with the brilliance only a mind with his level of intellectual prowess can achieve.

It is about an elementary school kid called Orion who is afraid of pretty much everything: bees, bullies, raising his hand in class, triggering an immoderate movement for the possibility of a toilet overflow, talking to a girl whom he secretly has a crush on - everything. But the thing he's most afraid of is the Dark. The introduction started promising with a very comprehensive description of what it feels like to be scared of, even in seemingly trivial things. One day, Dark gets fed up with all his screaming and decides to sweep into his bedroom. Orion meets the literal Dark - a vast cloaked figure with googly eyes and a dazzling bright Cheshire Cat smile. The Dark takes Orion onto the dreamy night landscapes to show him that he isn't as scary as he perceives.

While the animated film has a charming appeal, you can't help but compare it with the illustrations of the original picture book. The book is more child-friendly and engaging. The animated visuals appear dull compared to Pixar's other brightly dynamic fantastical environments, such as "The Soul." While the theme acknowledges its dark undertones, it should exude a vibrant atmosphere, avoiding a lifeless and dreamless ambiance.

As Kaufman is known to create metafictional characters, he humanized unforeseeable ideas to abstract-type characters like Sleep, the one responsible for helping you doze off; Quiet, the one who maintains the silence; Insomnia, the one fostering subtle intrusive thoughts that keeps people awake, Unexplained Noises with its noticeable banging and thudding, and Sweet Dreams, the one directing a good night dream. Regrettably, these characters seemed superfluous and failed to contribute meaningfully to the narrative.

The concept comes across as somewhat cliché and mainstream, bearing resemblances to themes explored in films like "The Book of Life" (2014), where characters symbolize life, death, and the afterlife, as well as "Inside Out" (2015), which personified basic emotions. What sets it apart is that Kauffman takes risks in diverging the plot, weaving between the future and the past. As the story unfolds, it reveals that it has been a bedtime story recounted by adult Orion to his daughter, Hypatia, who later added her own elements to the story. The narrative consistently alternates between adult Orion and his childhood self, presenting a multiverse concept that makes the phasing of the story confusing.

Despite its enchanting and candy-colored facade, there are adult concepts that children should not be exposed to at such a young age. For instance, there are scenes depicting Sleep smothering a person with a pillow, using a chloroform towel on a woman, and using a mallet on a child to let them sleep. The concepts are presented in a magical context and do not hurt the actuality of the characters. However, their presence raises questions about its appropriateness for a children's audience aged seven and above.

Furthermore, the complexity of the storyline and other themes surpass children's

emotional understanding. Insomnia's unsettling role involves whispering disturbing thoughts into people's minds and even finding humor in a man experiencing an existential crisis. Lastly, Dark giving up his existence and Orion diving deep into his own psyche, securities, took a much darker turn than your typical children's tale.

It also delves further from the central theme: Orion overcoming his fear. The end vaguely shows this part. Subsequently, it became a film about a child helping Dark fight his insecurities and low self-esteem in just a few minutes. The surplus of ideas gives the impression of a TV season's worth of concepts condensed into a 90-minute film, which can feel overwhelming and suffocating.

The story resonates more on an adult level than for kids, tapping into the nostalgia of adults who might relate to these fears from their childhoods. I appreciate the concept of fear coming in waves. It beautifully captures the idea that, even after overcoming it, there will be moments when fear resurfaces, and that's perfectly fine.

Overall, the film is one chaotic yet comforting film that delves into fears and anxieties. It validates the seemingly trivial things that instill fear in us. It is normal to feel your heart pound and knees shake. What is important is recognizing these jittery, abnormal feelings and moving forward despite them. In Hypatia and Orion's words, "Maybe being scared is just a part of life. You just need to feel the fear and do it anyway."


About the Creator

Ma. Angeline Narnola

Ma. Angeline Narnola is a fourth-year journalism student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

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