9 is the directorial debut film of CG animation newcomer, Shane Acker. The film is an adaption of Acker’s UCLA senior thesis short film of the same name, which became widely screened for the industry when it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2005. Director Tim Burton was so impressed with Acker’s artistic vision in the short, that he became a producer on the feature length film.
The film’s central character is named 9, so-called because of the number written on his back. He is a sentient robotic rag doll, only a few inches high. 9 first becomes self aware in a ruined city, littered with the ghosts of humanity, and devoid of any organic life. In exploring his surroundings, he soon finds others like him, all with a single digit on their back. The others have been hiding together in an old cathedral from a catlike mechanical beast that continually scours the arid landscape, searching for the dolls. The beast also seems to desire the small talisman 9 found when he first woke up. But when 9’s new friend 2 is captured by the beast, along with the talisman, the others are not of the same opinion when newcomer 9 suggests they go on a rescue mission.
Firstly, 9 should be celebrated for being a unique film. In the immense world of movies, it’s rare to see a new idea, and 9 gives us many; from the handmade robotic dolls (now dubbed stitchpunk), to a fresh perspective on the post-apocalypse genre. 9 seduces its audience with beautiful monochromatic, yet gritty images of a war-ravaged world, with a clear political and cultural history. The character animation, though limited with the simple character designs, is endearing. And with the aid of seasoned actors, especially Elijah Wood as 9 (whom I hope continues voice acting), gives us one of the best celebrity voice casts I’ve heard.
Despite its good qualities, 9 suffers under its own weighty plot. The original short film, while vague, grabs its audience with the suggestion of a larger plot. But in the feature film, the story loses much of the intrigue that made the short so alluring. The plot points are coincidental, and there are a few unnecessary action sequences. The limited dialogue lacks eloquence and sounds clichéd and matter-of-fact. As for the story, without an early goal and virtually no timeline with which to achieve it, it lacks the drive it needs to keep an audience truly engaged.
Despite its flaws, 9 is still a unique experience. And with its PG-13 rating, it attracted an adult audience, fascinated by its artwork, unique concepts, and religious symbolism. Since its release, 9 has become something of a cult film, loved by few, but with a long shelf life for those who treasure it.
Release Date: September 9, 2009 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (brief scene of a robot using a magnet to get high)
Violence: 4 (dark, violent, and scary scenes throughout, dead humans shown briefly, characters in peril, characters killed in frightening ways, villain mutilates a character’s dead body)