In “9,” the fate of the world rests in the hands of nine creatures made from burlap sacks. However alarming this prospect may seem, the whimsical world of director Shane Acker (“The Astounding Talents of Mr. Grenade”) should whisk viewers away from their fears of impending global destruction.
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The character 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood, “The Lord of the Rings”) first opens his eyes to see a world destroyed. The only other sentient beings he encounters are eight similarly small burlap robots and a terrifying host of angry machines. The nine robots must do battle against the machines to ensure the preservation of some semblance of humanity.
“9” was originally a short film with much the same storyline. The short was so successful that it was adapted into this full-length feature. The short film, in fact, was nominated for an Oscar back in 2005. But while the new version is only 79 minutes long — making it much shorter than most modern features — it is an unnecessarily long extension of the original.
The power of the original film gets diluted when stretched to take up the 79-minute span. There are too many chase scenes and far too much plot repetition. One member of the nine is captured and the rest have to go rescue him. Then another is captured on that rescue mission and he needs rescuing — after a while, it gets tedious.
Despite the hiccups in the story, the animation is still enamoring. There are some truly beautiful overlaps between the world built by the humans and the world of the machines. The nine robots find sanctuary in an old sculpture garden, setting a scene that is both sad and truly haunting. In another moment, amidst the destruction, they find an old phonograph record and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” plays while the bots rummage through remnants of the past.
Despite being an animated film, “9” carries a PG-13 rating, accurately indicating that the movie is not for small children. It’s a film ripe with graphic and disturbing images and characters; one of the machine monsters is a snake-like creature with the head of a possessed baby doll.
At the same time, the plot and the message remain fairly simple. But it’s simple in a negative sense — utterly basic and obvious. Though “9” aims to captivate an older audience, it cannot get past unsophisticated imagery — a burning church, a contrast between light and dark and ruined books.
Further, the characters are all helplessly one-dimensional. Each of the nine robots has essentially one personal quality. Number 7 (Jennifer Connelly, “He’s Just Not That Into You”) is the ferocious female, Number 1 (Christopher Plummer, “Up”) is bossy and Number 5 (John C. Reilly, “Step Brothers”) is always scared. Talented actors voice each of the nine robots, so it’s unfortunate that the script turns them into a more boring version of the seven dwarfs.
Beyond the identity crisis resulting from the scary animation and the simplistic script, the film suffers from the fact that several aspects of the plot, particularly the conclusion, will never make sense to anyone, regardless of age.
The film is an admirable attempt at turning a short film into a full-length movie, and it manages to keep some of its integrity, but in the end it’s a failure.