One thing Acker has going for him is the animation. I haven’t seen a movie filled with such fluid motion and sheer detail outside of a Pixar film, and Acker seems to challenge “Wall-E’s” apocalyptic wasteland with his own that sparks on facets like steam punk and whimsical quite often. The burlap dolls are magnificent and make for some appealing heroes and heroines because their designs are so fantastic. From their glass eyes, right down to their wooden hands, these pint sized heroes are such a sight upon their introduction. Beyond their personalities, it’s easy to know which character is which and what they’re meant for as bits of their master’s soul. The wonderful technology keeps the terrain and lands looking like steaming piles of rubble where artifacts are left behind and humans have been all but decimated at the claws of their war machines.
Making the experience more worthwhile is the spirited performances by the respective stars that include Jennifer Connolly, Christopher Plummer, and the humble hero go to guy Elijah Wood who plays the whip smart and daring 9 who refuses to live in fear at the rule of the crooked number 1 and instead opts to look for the source of the war machines and seeks to bring them down once and for all. Even though they’re burlap dolls, 9 makes a great case of their right to live in peace and the sacrifices made bring the character forward as a real hero. The interplay between characters is often electric and fans of the film will definitely find a character they can root for in the mix. Connolly’s number 7 is a warrior woman who has her surroundings already mapped out while number 1 is crippled by his fear of the drones sent out to hunt them down and the actors never fail to implement their base emotions for their roles. They’re the real highlight in the entire film. Okay, I’m just going to get this off my back and just spit it out. “9” was disappointing.
It’s one of the biggest disappointments of 2009 as an animated film and a fantasy film. There, I said it. At barely ninety minutes, Shane Acker’s film feels too long and that’s because the story is much too simplistic or shorthanded to even handle a running time that’s over forty five minutes. By any right it should have been a short film that could truncate the major events in to a quick moving action pack animated film. Instead we’re given drawn out melodrama, a script with barely any dialogue, and a Man vs. Machines background story that was cliché. Acker tries his hardest to individuate from his peers and not get stuck in the classic Frankenstein allegory but no matter how unique he tries to make the story, it’s still the old hat tale of man’s inventions turning on its masters. And we have nine burlap dolls to bring humanity back to life. Which is hard considering all of humanity is wiped out by the time 9 awakens in a different world. Alternate reality or not, this storyline leaves many questions looming from the opening. What are these creatures?
Are they even creatures? How can we expect to hate technology and black magic (as writer Pettler asks of us) when the very same practice brought these things to life? And why should we root for these characters when humanity has already died? What’s to be accomplished by their missions? And mostly, how can a few burlap dolls with no reproductive system be expected to repopulate. This conundrum leaves us with an ending that’s pretty open ended and clearly has no idea where it’s going once the credits roll. So even if they defeat the evil mechanisms, there’s still no real hope for the world. Lacking in its epic story potential Acker never takes advantage of this open wasteland and just keeps it squarely short and sweet. There’s not even time to introduce the characters properly, so much of what we perceive them as ends up wrong, or so we’re led to believe.
There’s just so much waste here that it ends up being a forgettable attempt at science fiction for the teens. It’s really a disappointing effort. Disappointing, “9” had me at a crossroads many times during its duration. On the one hand the world is appealing, the tone is just right for a post-apocalyptic film, and the voice acting is strong, but it fails in opening up the scope and potential for a truly epic storyline and instead just ends as a mediocre practice for Shane Acker’s storytelling abilities and lack thereof.