5 movies like 'Orion and the Dark' to stream right now

A promotional image for "Orion and the Dark" on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

The unlikely combination of DreamWorks Animation and offbeat screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in Netflix's original feature film “Orion and the Dark” has proved to be a surprising success, with both audiences and critics. The animated movie has remained lodged in Netflix’s top 10 since its release, and it boasts an impressive 91 percent approval rating with critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

Where to stream "Orion and the Dark"

"Orion and the Dark" is streaming on Netflix

That’s a testament to how effectively director Sean Charmatz integrates Kaufman’s penchant for neurotic angst and narrative trickery with DreamWorks’ accessible, family-friendly style. The story of insecure young boy Orion (Jacob Tremblay) befriending the embodiment of Dark itself (Paul Walter Hauser) is amusing and heartfelt, while also examining the serious anxieties and apprehensions that come with facing the unknown. Here are five more movies like "Orion and the Dark" that provide similar mixtures of entertainment and introspection.

'Monsters, Inc.'

Although it’s made by DreamWorks, “Orion and the Dark” is equally influenced by rival animation studio Pixar, with its emotional depth and its story that involves anthropomorphizing abstract concepts. Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” is also about ominous childhood fears coming to life, seeking redemption and understanding rather than harsh rejection. In this case, it’s the monsters that children imagine lurking in their closets and under their beds, who are harmless, hard-working creatures just trying to make a living.

Billy Crystal and John Goodman voice the genial monsters who have been taught that children are dangerous enemies but learn that the opposite is true when they accidentally transport a child back to their world. Like Orion and Dark, monsters Mike and Sulley and the little girl they name Boo form a friendship that transcends hurtful preconceptions.

Watch on Disney Plus

'Puss in Boots: The Last Wish'

Even before working with Charlie Kaufman, DreamWorks grappled with some heavy themes in an unexpected place, with this belated sequel to the “Shrek” franchise spin-off “Puss in Boots.” While “The Last Wish” still takes place in the series’ skewed fairy-tale world, it’s more about examining the existential crisis faced by the title character, the swashbuckling cat voiced by Antonio Banderas.

After recklessly using up nearly all of his nine lives, Puss is pursued by a dark, wolf-like figure who is the personification of death, and he seeks out the fabled Wishing Star to restore his lives and evade the consequences of his actions. The painterly animation and the soulful relationship between Puss and past love Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) give “The Last Wish” a level of artistic sophistication while still delivering fun action and goofy humor.

Watch on Netflix

'The Princess Bride'

Cross-generational storytelling is a key component in “Orion and the Dark,” which is presented as a bedtime story that the adult Orion tells his skeptical daughter Hypatia. There’s a similar dynamic between the grandfather (Peter Falk) and grandson (Fred Savage) in director Rob Reiner’s gentle, self-aware fairy tale, framed as a storybook being read to the sick boy.

Just as Orion improvises and alters his tale to fit Hypatia’s suggestions, the grandfather promises to include only “the good parts” as he reads his grandson the story of Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her lost-and-found love Westley (Cary Elwes). Both movies are perfect introductions to metafiction for younger viewers, as they discover the possibilities of cinema to playfully reflect on its own creation.

Watch on Disney Plus


Like Dark, the title character in fellow Netflix original animated movie “Nimona” is perceived as a villain but is really just misunderstood. Based on ND Stevenson’s popular graphic novel, the movie takes place in a world that’s part sci-fi future, part medieval fantasy. Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teen girl with shapeshifting powers who teams up with disgraced knight Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) to help him clear his name. 

Moretz plays Nimona with boundless energy and enthusiasm, and the animation is detailed and expressive. The story offers valuable lessons about tolerance without sacrificing Nimona’s unique snarky sense of humor or softening her character. She revels in creating chaos, but at heart, she just wants to make a connection with someone who sees her for who she really is.

Watch on Netflix


Most kids aren’t ready for a concentrated dose of Charlie Kaufman weirdness, but adult fans of “Orion and the Dark” can follow it up with this Kaufman classic, directed by Spike Jonze. The levels of metafiction are even heavier in this elaborately self-reflexive comedy, starring Nicolas Cage as a version of Kaufman. Cage also plays Kaufman’s fictional twin brother Donald, who intrudes on the efforts of Charlie (the character) to adapt Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book “The Orchid Thief.”

“The Orchid Thief” is a real book about real people, but Kaufman mixes its facts with fiction, including speculative versions of both Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her book’s subject John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Kaufman and Jonze deliver funny, insightful commentary on the stresses of artistic creation, while also honoring Orlean’s work in the most irreverent way possible.

Rent/buy at Amazon or Apple

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.