Let us put “story” and “plot” aside for something so astoundingly stunning that it defies the imagination. 9, the new movie being marketed on the back of Tim Burton, is a visual masterpiece in every sense of the phrase. It is being pooh-poohed by critics for not containing enough story, or using overly simplistic clichéd ideas to get its point across. Instead 9 uses a simplistic plot as a backdrop to showcase some of the most outlandishly awesome computer animation to hit the big screen.
In a post-apocalyptic world, where sentient machines have taken over the earth, nine sock puppet-like figures have been created by a now deceased scientist. Their story is revealed in flashbacks here and there during the movie. The reason they are around isn’t especially important, it is what they do and how they do it that is the real key to the film.
People are missing the point of this film if they try and dig too deep or ask for meaning where there deliberately isn’t any. The film provides enough backstory of machines turning against their masters and taking over to suffice. We the audience see everything from the sock puppet point of view, making everything large, terrifying, and confusing. Part of the point is to be as confused as these sock puppets are. They don’t know why they exist; only that they do and that their instinct to survive is strong.
Each living puppet has a number painted on their back. Numbers one through nine. Each puppet has a distinct personality, figuring out what those personalities are and how they relate once the “secret” is revealed is part of the fun and will require rewatching to figure out exactly what and why they are. The puppet with a nine scrawled on his back is the newest one to come to life. He doesn’t know why, how, or what even brought him to life. Does he know what life is? That’s a good question. He has instincts, and he learns quickly. He soon meets up with others that look like him. They are all made of different materials, many of them resembling old potato sacks, stitched together into human-like bodies with what appear to be camera shutters for eyes.
They are only known by the numbers on their backs, and nine is the most curious of the bunch. After a run-in with a ferocious dog-like machine that runs off with number two, nine sets off on a quest to save his comrade. He is led to a dark, looming factory that can only contain dreadful things.
When the mother machine is awakened it begins to create hordes of new machines to hunt down the puppets. The machines are so inventive and deliciously creepy that their animators should be proud. They are everything that the robots in Transformers are not. Every bit of them is interesting as they are created out of millions of spare pieces of scrap metal that’s been lying around. The evil machines are just as fun to look at and admire as the fine craftsmanship of the hand-sewn puppet creatures. There is a snake-like creature in this film that would make even Sid from Toy Story shudder in terror.
Everything about this film is clever and creative. It’s short 75-minute runtime is packed with relentless action sequences and quick narrative. The action sequences rival any of those seen in big budget live action films, and the fast-paced narrative of the film works well in explaining the larger parts of the plot.
This film is enthralling on so many levels. The animation is on an entirely different plane than most animated films. It brings a level of eeriness to the movie that wouldn’t have been achieved otherwise. 9 is haunting in its portrayal of humanity, but in all of its doom and gloom is hope for a better future. It may sound a little cliché, but believe me when I say the way 9 goes about telling its post-apocalyptic story is anything but cliché. It’s a wondrously beautiful epic of an animated film.