Orion and the Dark Parent Guide
Skillful animation, a talented voice cast, and a great message for anxious kids are all let down by a scrip that falters badly partway through the film.
Parent Movie Review
Eleven-year-old Orion (Jacob Tremblay) is incredibly anxious. He has a long list of fears and constantly imagines what could go wrong in any scenario. These worries have a tendency to get in the way of his life, as he struggles to make friends, tries to stay invisible at school, and can’t get through the night without waking up his parents because of his crippling fear of the dark. One particularly scary night, Orion is visited by Dark (Paul Walter Hauser), who is sick and tired of kids being afraid of him.
Determined to prove that he’s not as scary as people think, Dark takes Orion with him as he brings night to the world. But when their adventure takes a turn, Orion will have to face his fears and save more than just himself.
Orion and the Dark is a perfect example of a great concept that the writers don’t know how to execute. The overall premise is excellent, with a helpful message for kids, especially those who can relate to Orion’s anxiety. At no point is Orion told by the adults in his life that he’s being silly or should “just get over it”. He’s taken seriously but is lovingly reminded that fear is a part of life and he’ll never experience anything if he lets fear control him. The idea of having a personification of a common fear, Dark, lead Orion through an adventure is a fabulous idea. Orion discovers the beauty in the darkness and learns that sometimes our fears come from a place of misunderstanding or unfamiliarity. This storyline should have been powerful for young audiences: unfortunately, the writers ran out of ideas about 30 minutes in.
The remainder of the film is convoluted, confusing, and often boring. It very much has the feel of elementary students with a creative writing assignment. When they can’t come up with an ending, they just start throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Time machines! Laser guns! Monsters! That’s how a third act works, right? The layers of the framing device quickly go past “creative” to “frustrating” - and that complaint is coming from an adult with an English degree. I can appreciate a meta-narrative, but not when it’s done in an obvious cop-out to avoid writing a full story.
That all said, the animation is fantastic. The animators expertly use light and shadow to convey the story and they integrate 2D drawings into the 3D world to differentiate between Orion’s imagination and reality. The voice acting is also overall superb, especially from Paul Walter Hauser and a very brief, but hilarious, cameo from Werner Herzog.
Unfortunately, the skillful production is hugely let down by a weak script. The messages are still impactful, and I do think children with a tendency for anxiety could feel represented and understood and maybe even find courage to face their own fears. There isn’t much in the way of negative content, save some minor peril and some mild language, but that also isn’t enough to overcome the story problems. Although it has some shining lights, Orion and the Dark might be better off staying in the shadows.Directed by Sean Charmatz. Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Jacob Tremblay, Angela Bassett. Running time: 92 minutes. Theatrical release February 2, 2024. Updated February 1, 2024
Watch the trailer for Orion and the Dark
Orion and the Dark
Rating & Content Info
Why is Orion and the Dark rated TV-Y7? Orion and the Dark is rated TV-Y7 by the MPAA for fear and language.
Violence: Orion imagines bad things that could happen, like falling off a skyscraper or being chased by bees. There are scenes of mild peril. Characters shoot laser guns at monsters.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: The script contains some mild insults, a mild profanity, and four terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None.
Page last updated February 1, 2024
Orion and the Dark Parents' Guide
Are Orion’s fears rational or irrational? How do his fears affect his life and relationships? How does his experience with the Dark help him see things differently? Are things you are afraid of or frightened about? Do they limit your participation in things you would like to do? Are there any steps you think you could take to work with your fears instead of letting them control you?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want to read reassuring books to kids who are afraid of the dark, there are plenty of excellent picture books to choose from.
This movie was inspired by Emma Yarlett’s Orion and the Dark.
The Darkest Dark tells the tale of a young boy who wants to be an astronaut but is also afraid of the dark. Written by real-life astronaut, Chris Hadfield and illustrated by Eric Fan, this story helps kids appreciate the beauty and excitement of the dark.
Beloved author Mercer Mayer has written and illustrated two books that can help fearful youngsters – There’s a Nightmare in My Closet and There’s an Alligator Under My Bed.
Packed full of useful strategies, Be Brave Like Batman! can help young superheroes-in-the-making overcome their own fears. The book is written by Laura Hitchock and illustrated by Ethen Beavers.
For silly strategies, kids can turn to Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You by Peter Vegas.
In The Rabbit, the Dark and the Cookie Tin, Rabbit bravely traps The Dark in a cookie jar, thereby putting an end to his fears. Then he learns that the world needs The Dark. Another rabbit copes with an unusual fear in Afraid of the Light, written by Albert Strasser and illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino.
Some parents might even remember being soothed and amused by the classic Dr. Seuss story, What Was I Scared Of? In this quirky tale, a youngster is chased through the night by a pair of empty yellow pants.
With its excellent graphic design, Night Animals by Gianna Marino tells the story of animals who are frightened by the night animals that are “coming to get them”. Surprising and entertaining, this should be a hit with young readers.
As an aid to addressing any type of fear, I’m Not Afraid comes with plenty of charm and whimsy. Written by Britta Teckentrup, this picture book tells the tale of Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog, who are discussing their fears and strategies for overcoming them.
Related home video titles:
There are some good movie options out there for helping kids recognize and talk about uncomfortable emotions.
Pixar’s classic film, Inside Out, goes inside a young girl’s head where her emotions struggle to interpret and manage her feelings about an unwanted move to a new state. Joy is used to running the show, but she’s facing lots of competition from Sadness, Fear, and Anger.
Anxious and withdrawn after her mother is hospitalized, June refuses to play with the model amusement park they have constructed together. In Wonder Park, June discovers that the park is real and she must face her feelings to save it from destruction.
A shy child, made more withdrawn by a recent move, finds hope and friendship when he receives The Velveteen Rabbit as a Christmas gift. With his new toy, the young boy embarks on imaginary adventures and a very real partnership.