Review: 9 (2009)
9 is a pretty simple, interesting post-apocalyptic puppet movie about the nature of life and the dizzying pace of technological change. Probably not appropriate for very young children, in keeping with its PG-13 rating, it is nevertheless a worthwhile film for kids or adults, visually well-executed and pretty fun to watch, with a familiar if still relevant message.
In the near future, a scientist has created a machine which creates machines, Terminator-like. Originally conceived as a life-affirming, humanity-compatible entity, it inevitably comes under the control of a dictator bent on using it for destruction and the extension of his own power.
When it runs even out of his control, and turns against all of humanity, the scientist sees that all of life is endangered, and creates nine new "inventions," tiny burlap-covered dolls endowed with souls, language, and a complex hidden program or mission to destroy the machine and make the world safe for life again.
It's a bare-bones quest of a plot, but the visuals and the questions raised by the way the character of 9 is "born" and meets his brothers and sister(s)? are compelling enough to carry the story along.
Tim Burton is an excellent producer for the film, though it was based on a short film (which I have not seen) by the writer/director, Shane Acker. The characters and character designs evoke Edward Scissorhands and Oogie Boogie and other characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though it is computer-animated like Corpse Bride or the aliens in Mars Attacks, like those films it also mimics stop-motion animation in its details and movement.
The Star Wars films are also echoed visually, with huge two-legged walking robot killing machines, a marked similarity between the 1-9 numbered characters and our old friend C-3PO, and, in a certain way, the Death Star concept.
All of these echoes are obvious and familiar, but don't take much away from a real feeling of the creation of a persuasive, unique world the characters inhabit. The doll characters accept and interact with one another in a way that makes sense, and which grows and changes in a believable way.
The voice casting is very good as well, particularly Elijah Wood as 9, Christopher Plummer as the put-upon 1 and John C. Reilly as the hesitant 5. While the voices are all distinctive, it is a flaw of the film that there are times when we're not sure exactly who is who, especially among numbers 2, 5, 7 and 9. This gets a bit confusing in a few places.
9 probably isn't even the best animated film about humanity's excesses as opposed to the resources available on this planet out now, that'd be Ponyo, but it has a unique look and style of its own, and tells a spare story with resonance.
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