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Thursday, 01 February 2024 08:24

What's Charlie Kaufman's preferred Pixar film? The answer lies in Monsters, Inc., a revelation from the cerebral screenwriter himself, who once admitted his indifference towards WALL.E. His sentiments regarding Inside Out (2015) might carry a hint of bitterness, as it triumphed over his own melancholic stop-motion creation, Anomalisa, at the Oscars that year—an ironic competition considering their disparate themes, according to Kaufman.

In a surprising move, Kaufman seems to embrace the "If you can't beat them, join them" philosophy, venturing into the realm of children's films with DreamWorks Animation. His debut in this genre involves adapting Emma Yarlett's 2014 picture book, Orion and the Dark. Yarlett's tale follows a young child facing the daunting moment when bedroom lights go out and existential dread creeps in. In both the film and the book, Orion confronts the dark, personified as a compassionate, looming figure who proves to be more sad than scary, genuinely concerned for Orion's well-being. The ensuing journey, reminiscent of Monsters, Inc., is at its best when embracing this thematic similarity.

While Yarlett's book targeted pre-schoolers, Sean Charmatz's film portrays Orion (Jacob Tremblay) as a reserved elementary school boy, illustrating his myriad fears through constant scribbling. Transformed into a quintessential Charlie Kaufman character, Orion, with a full spectrum of neuroses, appears destined for years of therapy. The central conflict arises as Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) becomes Orion's greatest fear, much to the bewilderment of the big, furry entity, who believes he has done nothing to warrant such apprehension. The contrast with Light (Ike Barinholtz), a confident and boisterous figure, sets the stage for an engaging exploration.

The film's core concept provides ample material for exploration, with Hauser delivering a standout performance and the animators skillfully rendering Dark as both lugubrious and lovable. However, true to Kaufman's style, the narrative becomes a cerebral tapestry, weaving in additional layers. The adult Orion (Colin Hanks) recounts the tale to his timid daughter, who, in turn, passes it on to her grandchild. Time-traveling, a la Interstellar, adds another intriguing dimension as she aids the young Orion in navigating his most significant challenge. In typical Kaufman fashion, the film becomes a rich tapestry of ideas, showcasing his distinctive storytelling approach.

Moreover, Dark comes accompanied by an entourage featuring peculiar characters like Insomnia, Sleep, Quiet, Sweet Dreams, and Unexplained Noises. However, these additions, despite their oddity, fail to seamlessly integrate into the film's narrative or any cinematic context. Kaufman delves into Pixar's Inside Out toolbox, disrupting the inherent simplicity of Yarlett's original concept. While his personal touch on a Pixar-style film is evident, the drawback emerges as he inadvertently mimics multiple Pixar elements simultaneously. The result is a blend of sweetness and chaos, veering toward overambition. Clocking in at 92 minutes with no certification, the film will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 2nd.

In conclusion, Charlie Kaufman's venture into the realm of children's animation, adapting Emma Yarlett's Orion and the Dark, showcases his unique spin on a Pixar-style film. However, the addition of peculiar characters and the infusion of elements from Pixar's Inside Out dilute the simplicity of Yarlett's original idea. The film, both sweet and hectic, demonstrates Kaufman's tendency to embrace multiple influences simultaneously, resulting in an ambitious yet somewhat chaotic narrative. Despite its overambitious nature, the film, with a runtime of 92 minutes and no official certification, will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 2nd. Whether Kaufman's distinct touch resonates positively or adds complexity to the children's animation genre remains to be seen.

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