Charlie Kaufman is known for his mind-bending script work on projects like “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But his next project will be entirely more genial – an original DreamWorks Animation feature called “Orion and the Dark,” coming to Netflix in 2024. The announcement was made at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, as part of a larger DreamWorks panel.
Based on the book by Emma Yarlett, the project stars Jacob Tremblay as Orion, a scaredy-cat indoor kid (described in the official synopsis as “a ball of adolescent anxiety”) and Paul Walter Hauser as Dark, the living embodiment of the night and the thing Orion is most scared of. Director Sean Charmatz, a DreamWorks veteran of the “Trolls Holiday Special,” stressed that, even though it’s a DreamWorks movie on Netflix it “has all of the Charlie Kaufman stuff in it.” (Kaufman previously worked on “Kung Fu Panda 2” for the studio.)
The footage that they showed was filled with Kaufman-esque no sequiturs, like when Dark shows Orion a documentary about nighttime that is in the style of a Werner Herzog doc, with Herzog actually doing the narration. And other night characters like Insomnia, Sleep (who we are almost certain was voiced by Natasia Demetriou from “What We Do in the Shadows”), Quiet, Dreams and Unexplained Noises. Each character has their own distinct look, with some inspiration clearly taken from Jim Henson’s Muppets, specific to the kind of distress that the characters elicit in Orion.
But as impressive as the concept was, the visuals were equally striking, as the team behind the film showed off concept art by people like Leo Matsuda, whose short film “Inner Workings” played before “Moana,” and Joe Pitt, who directed episodes of “Gravity Falls” and worked as a character designer on a number of DreamWorks projects, including “Trolls” and “The Croods: A New Age.”
The team was inspired by photographer Stephen Wilkes and his book “Day to Night,” which shows the same location in the daytime and night, and the overlapping patterns and textures of the mid-1990s (which is when the movie is set). Borrowing an ethos created for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” by Lindsey Olivares, the movie emphasized a design mentality governed by principles of “lean,” “wobble,” “lines” and “floaters,” giving it a scratchier, more handcrafted feeling.
The animation for “Orion and the Dark” was handled by Mikros Animation, which worked with DreamWorks on “Captain Underpants” and provided the jaw-dropping animation for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” which just premiered at Annecy.
“Orion and the Dark” will stream on Netflix in 2024.