Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Adapted by creator Shane Acker from the short film of the same name, and produced by Tim Burton (who knows a thing or too about creepy and unconventional animated films), comes "9."

CGI animation in the style of stop-motion, Acker's film is a breath of fresh air in both style and story. If you enjoyed Coraline earlier this year then this one's for you. Here's a good story beautifully rendered and not afraid to inspire both fear and awe in younger viewers.

Rather than take time to explain the world and its rules (i.e. talk down to its audience), as would happen in well over 90% of animated films (and close to 100% of kid's films), we're thrown right into the middle of the action.

The story begins with birth into a world of death. This is a post-apocalyptic world populated only by small puppet figures and dangerous mechanical beasts. We discover the world through the eyes of the newly created 9 (Elijah Wood).

Through 9's experiences and explorations we learn more about the state of the world and the origin of the stitchpunks (the name for the rag doll creatures). They are your basic collection of movie archetype characters, each based on a single overriding characteristic. There's iron-fisted leader 1 (Christopher Plummer), inquisitive and curious 2 (Martin Landau), the brave warrior 7 (Jennifer Connelly), the mute twins 3 and 4, the prophetic 6 (Crispin Glover), the inventor 5 (John C. Reilly), and the dimwitted bully 8 (Fred Tatasciore).

The stichpunks live in fear of metal creatures who roam the landscape intent on their extermination including a skull-faced cat, a winged predator, and the large metal spider which controls them all. As animated baddies go, these are the most frightening I've seen in some time.

Although Burton's hand can be felt (especially in Seamstress creature), neither Acker's voice nor vision is overwhelmed.

This is a story is your basic Frankenstein cautionary tale of science uncontrolled, and the dangerous consequences when the creation turns on the master. Although not terribly original, the story works well enough, especially as it slowly reveals itself to the audience (which allows for plenty of tense moments).

The film also hasn't skimped on scary or dark moments for hopes of bringing in a younger audience. It certainly isn't for young children, but pre-teens and older will get something to savor very different from the regular release of Disney, DreamWorks, or even Pixar.

And the look is fantastic. Everything shown on screen feels real and tangible, almost as if you could reach out and run your fingertips across the varied textures on display.

The film isn't without its flaws, such as the climax, revelations, and resolution of the film, which - though beautiful - don't have the magic of the rest of the film and are a bit of a letdown. Style points aside, 9 isn't a great film, but, in a year that's been surprisingly good for animation, it is a very good film which certain audiences (and you know who you are) should, and will, seek out.

If you like your animation beautiful, but more than a little bleak, I'd recommend you attempt to discover if 9 might be your lucky number.

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