In 2005, UCLA film student Shane Acker made a short CGI film called 9. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and caught the attention of filmmaker Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride) who wanted to turn the short into a feature-length film.
9 follows the adventures of a sentient rag doll with the #9 stitched on his back who wakes up in a post-apocalyptic land next to the body a dead scientist and then meets other dolls like himself. There’s #1 who’s the overbearing leader (voiced by Christopher Plummer); #2 (Martin Landau) is the inventor; there’s #3 and #4 who are mute twins; #5 (John C. Reilly) is the engineer; while #6 is artistic (Crispin Glover), #7 (Jennifer Connelly) is a warrior who’s independent and noble, and #8 (Fred Tatasciore) is the muscle of the group.
As the movie progresses we learn of the war between humans and machines, what the scientist was doing and what the significance of the numbers on the dolls backs is and their connection to the scientist. To say more would be a major spoiler and you need to see the film rather than read about it.
While the movie is visually stunning, the plot is a bit weak and repetitious with the rag dolls fighting the machines over and over until the mystery of the rag dolls is solved. However 9 is good for a rental and hopefully this is only the beginning for Acker and his film career.
The extras for 9 include a commentary with writer/director Acker, animation director Joe Ksander, head of story Ryan O'Loughlin, and editor Nick Kenway. The quartet cover all aspects of the film and as this is their first commentary they are very lively and want to impart all their experiences to the listener.
"9: The Long and Short of It" talks about the process of adapting Acker’s original short film into the full-length feature and includes how winning an Oscar for the short changed his life, working with Tim Burton, and interviews with many of the cast and crew, including Burton.
“The Look of 9” covers the look of the picture, the low-angle construction, the use of up-glancing shots and the use of rust, garbage, and industrial grunge, and how the film reflects on these influences.
“Acting Out” if a brief featurette that covers how the animators had to become actors during the construction of the burlap dolls in the films. They became actors when they used mirrors to see facial expressions for both lip sync and expressing emotions.
There are several deleted scenes which never made it to completion, but instead are in storyboard format for you to view.
“9 – The Original Short” is the last featurette and arguably the best extra. You can see elements that were expanded upon in the feature here, how certain plots were spread to new characters, and more. The film has no dialogue so it’s more visual, and you have to pay closer attention, but it’s a great short. There’s also the option to play with commentary from Shane Acker and animator Joe Ksander who discuss the differences between the short and the feature and more.