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Orion and the Dark review – Charlie Kaufman surprises with Netflix kids’ animation

The Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich screenwriter has adapted a picture book for his debut family film about being afraid of the dark

A mainstream children’s movie from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, creator of Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York? It has to be worth a look, if only for the pleasure of wondering how much of his own adult neurosis has crept in. For this DreamWorks/Netflix family animation, Kaufman has adapted a picture book by Falmouth-based British author Emma Yarlett, and Sean Charmatz makes his feature directing debut, having worked chiefly on storyboarding films such as SpongeBob SquarePants and The Lego Movie 2.

It is about an unhappy little kid called Orion (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), who is afraid of pretty much everything: putting his hand up in class, being bullied, causing the toilet to overflow with an immoderate bowel movement, talking to the girl he is secretly in love with – and especially the dark. But one night, the Dark himself (voiced by Paul Walter Hauser) swoops grumpily into his bedroom: a vast, cloaked figure with face shrouded under a hood. The Dark insists on taking Orion on a magical night-flight across Stygian landscapes to prove that it isn’t so bad, and introduces him to five Pixar-abstract-type personae pals including Insomnia (Nat Faxon), in charge of keeping people awake with insidious little thoughts, and Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel) doing the same thing with sudden banging and thumping. On the other hand Quiet (Aparna Nancherla), Sweet Dreams (Angela Bassett) and Sleep (Natasia Demetriou) are committed to helping you doze off.

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