We are spoiled when it comes to the current crop of animated films. Pixar continues to churn out gem after gem, Tim Burton occasionally rears his frazzled head with a stop-motion masterpiece, and everyone from Walt Disney to Dreamworks has followed suit, with even Wes Anderson pitching in. I hope the kids realise how good they have it, cause back in my day... well, you know the rest.
Which is what makes the appearance of 9 so interesting. Much more than a me-too animated release, it showcases a refreshing new talent with Shane Acker. Taking a cue from both the offbeat and dark world of Tim Burton, as well as the obsessive polish of Pixar, he has fused the two together with impressive results
The story of 9 begins with a small rag-doll creature marked with the number "9" (voiced by Elijah Wood) both waking up and coming to life in a desolate, post-apocalyptic world that is void of natural life. As his journey unfolds, he meets the other members of his kind - numbers 1 through 8 (voiced by Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and others) - and slowly comes to find out how they were created, and what happened to the rest of the world. The dolls' creator was a great inventor who developed an autonomous machine capable of both labor and creating new machines. But when it fell into the wrong hands (of course it did, why wouldn't it?), the corrupt will imposed on the machines eventually caused them to rebel and begin destroying life. Near the end of his own life, the inventor - distraught at the ruin from his creation - made these nine dolls to carry on after humanity.
It's an interesting idea, but somehow the plot instead devolves more into "small things must destroy big enemy." It goes about it in an interesting way, but that's more or less the depth of it. It's fortunate that the world itself goes a long way towards making that nugget of a plot feel much more grand. The setting is very moody and dark, and amazingly rich with detail. The design of the world has a very salvaged, almost steampunk feel, and the offbeat characters and settings create visual eye candy. The actors do a good job, although they don't have much to work with in the clunky dialogue. However, the fact that the movie is more design and action driven than it is a "talkie" helps things considerably.