9 (2009)

In 2005, Shane Acker made a short film called ‘9’ about a mute little puppet guy running around in a post-apocalyptic world. The short was visually stunning and mysteriously interesting, and it gained a nomination for Best Animated Short at the Oscars that year. That success was probably what allowed Acker to make a (mostly) full-length version of his short, also entitled 9, which came out in 2009. Unfortunately, when the material from his short is extended to a longer runtime, it is stretched very thin. 9 looks amazing and has an outstanding voice cast, but offers very little in terms of story, character, or action.

9 begins with the eponymous doll coming to life and finding all the humans in the world around him dead. He soon runs into a similar being, numbered 2, who helps him out before getting taken by an evil machine. Apparently robots have revolted and are the cause for human extinction. After the attack, 9 wakes up amidst most of the other homonculi that were numbered prior to him, and the movie sets off.

The puppets that have real lines (six of the nine do) are voiced by very well-known actors. Elijah Wood voices 9, and the others are taken on by Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly. Everyone does a great job and fits nicely into their roles. They bring a lot of spirit to the “stitchpunk” golems that the film follows.

Unfortunately the characters they are voicing don’t really have much to say. All of them seem to be pretty archetypal – the overbearing but well-meaning grizzled leader, the soft-spoken nice guy, the adventurous and capable female, the quiet weird artsy one… granted, these are all aspects of one man’s soul that have been put in these dolls, but it still would have been nice to have them fleshed out a bit more.

What needed even more help was the plot of the film. It’s depressingly simple. The way the story begins, you expect to go on some sort of epic journey with these puppets, but instead you do a sort of point-to-point roadtrip that ends up being extremely predictable and unoriginal. They go somewhere, they get attacked, another member gets their souls taken away; rinse and repeat. After 20 minutes you can probably guess who’s going to bite the dust and what order they’ll do it in. The robots are made to look way too obviously evil (how could anyone have expected these things to usher in peace if they have machine guns on the front?), and the action scenes that pit these evil mechanical creatures against our lovable stitchpunks are equally unsatisfying. The first creature is decapitated with startling ease by an intervening 7, and though the next villain is a very interesting serpent-like machine, we know that he too will soon fall relatively easily, perhaps after taking out a puppet or two.

The film leaves one wondering who exactly it was made for. The fact that it’s animated isolates many adults who can’t bring themselves to watch animated puppets running around. However, it also has a very dark and somewhat scary tone about it, and its setting is littered with many dead human bodies, so you have to wonder at what age this kind of stuff would stop giving one nightmares.

9 looks amazing. It’s got some of the best CGI I’ve seen in an animated feature so far, and it makes a lot of use of its heroes’ size. There’s a ton of really cool instances showing how these little guys interact with the world from their tiny perspective, and whether it’s using a sewing needle as a weapon or running on a record to play it, it’s all very fun to look at and point out. The earlier puppets like 1 and 2 are markedly different from the later ones – just look at their eyes and construction. This kind of detail is what makes 9 good enough to watch. It just looks so cool.

Despite being the shortest film I’ve watched in a long time, 9 is repetitive and not as inspiring as you may hope it to be. Its plot and characters are sadly underdeveloped, and a lot of the surrounding story doesn’t feel fleshed out at all either. 9 is a movie that you could take or leave, depending on how interesting it seems to you. Even if you don’t end up getting into it, at least you won’t have to spend more than 80 minutes on it. It’d be great, however, if the film had been good enough to make me want it to be longer.

Final rating: 6/10

–James A. Janisse


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