Critically acclaimed, world renowned writer of children's stories, Charlie Kaufman is back with another easily digestible film in Orion and the Dark. Once again, the writer of classic coming of age films like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, New York and I'm Thinking of Ending Things returns to the animated world of a child's imagination, and deepest fears.
Alright maybe that's all hogwash. But the real reason that Orion and the Dark is an interesting film is because its such a departure from Kaufman's previous works! His ability to sculpt existential, meta commentary is unparalleled so the prospect of having that in an animated film is compelling all on its own. Joined by writers Emma Yarlett and Lloyd Taylor, Kaufman's story is interesting even if it gets a little derailed near the end.
Aided by incredible voice work from the film's stars Jacob Tremblay as Orion, and Paul Walter Hauser as Dark, Orion and the Dark is equal parts entertaining and authentic in feel. Hauser can sometimes sound like he's doing his best Seth Rogen imitation but it works in the context of who Dark is. Tremblay is the star here though, whose Orion character is done impeccably. The range of emotion he hits through just his voice is incredible. It's been really special watching Tremblay hit his stride after such an early role in Room with comedic range in Good Boys and featured voice roles like Luca and The Little Mermaid.
Orion goes through a wonderful transformation throughout the film, conquering a variety of his fears, but most prominently being afraid of the dark. Guided by Dark, Orion and the Dark is a fun, and funny, film about confronting fears, growing up, and finding unlikely friends. Much of the transformation hinges on Tremblay's voicing, but the supporting characters in the story are wonderful additions. Humanizing strange aspects of the night into characters such as Dreams (Angela Bassett), Quiet (Aparna Nancherla), Sleep (Natasia Demetriou), Insomnia (Nat Faxon), and Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel) add to the charm of the film. Providing more elements for Orion to overcome, befriend, and not to mention, plenty of entertaining moments for the audience.
While there's plenty to love about Orion and the Dark, and I know I just spent a considerable amount of time lauding Kaufman's writing, it is also the downfall of the film. Kaufman's love for existential commentary takes a turn for the worst when his story twists from a child confronting his fears to a commentary on story construction itself. Orion as a future father (Colin Hanks) is narrating the story to his daughter Hypatia (Mia Akemi Brown), often exhibiting cute, fatherly fun and showcasing Orion's growth. But the story plunges into distracting commentary when Hypatia brings up the fear of not knowing how stories end forcing the storyteller to add the absurd. She's referring to Orion's story consisting of a young Orion knowing he'd have a daughter. Making this a "knowledge of the future" type of situation. Which when the story then actually includes time travel to a degree, you're just a bit lost. Is Kaufman commenting on his own inability to write certain stories? Or are we just meant to think about our own future, the uncertainty that it holds and our fear of it? All of these are interesting enough complexities to think about but when added to the film's current trajectory, it feels unnecessary.
Kaufman's choices are slightly more understandable when the film finishes however. A final moment far in the future of Orion's life full of warmth, reflection, and love. Feeling like a proper cap on Orion's story, there's a semblance of redemption for an otherwise wonky climax. The big picture of Orion and the Dark is a fun, entertaining and inventive film that is overflowing with Kaufman stylings. That can be both a good thing, and a bad thing.
I'll hand it to Orion, the dark can be a little frightening at times. But, as Orion bravely faced his fear, even befriending Dark, we too must dive head first into the darkness. What better way to get acclimated to such a proposition than with a dark beer! Well, kind of dark?
Distant West Brewing not only just celebrated their grand opening this weekend, but has also put out one of my favorite Schwarzbiers in recent memory. Silky smooth and deliciously sweet, Distant West Brewing's Schwarzbier is a top notch traditional brew. The roasted flavors are fantastic, but the hint of coffee and chocolate at the finish really rounds out this beer. Talking to the bartender that day we lamented over the lack of Schwarzbier's in the Ballard area, where there are now 13 breweries in walking distance of one another. But as luck would have it, all you need is Distant West's version of it because it is wonderful