Director    Shane Acker
Starring    Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, John C Reilly, Crispin Glover
Release    9 SEP (US) 28 OCT (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


2nd November 2009

We are told that 9 is brought to us by the visionary directors Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, which immediately conjures up images of gothic fairytale whimsy and flashy action. Although containing elements of both, this film is actually more like an epic adventure - and it's just a little too ambitious.

The misleading name-dropping to promote the movie is an obvious attempt to make the film more appealing to cinemagoers because, on the face of it, there is very little else here to make this animation a worthy mainstream flick. While Burton and Bekmambetov 'present' the film (having fronted some cash to get it made), Shane Acker is the director and 9 is his first major feature film. Unfortunately, it shows.

The movie starts with a ragdoll awakening in a room occupied only by a dead body. With a big zip down his front and the number '9' painted on his back, he ventures outside into an utterly devastated world and soon encounters a group of similar dolls, all numbered 1 to 8 and all displaying very different character traits. The group is led by the dictatorial '1' and together they hide from the machine beasts that seek to destroy all living things. That is until 9 decides to fight back.

[gallery]Adapted from his own short silent film of the same name, Shane Acker expands on this epic tale of post-apocalypse existentialism and makes the brave decision to add voices in the meantime. Not just any voices, mind, famous voices. Elijah Wood provides the leading character with his vocal tones and the supporting cast is made up of Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and Christopher Plummer.

It's not hard to see what attracted such big names to the film. It has an interesting premise, the characters are fun and Shane Acker had already shown in his short that he has the imagination and means to create a wonderfully fantastic world in which to house this magical plot. There is just something that goes slightly awry in the execution.

While the story is certainly unique and contains all the elements of a classic tale of heroism, the events move along at such a fast pace that it is hard to care about the consequences.

A perfect example of what goes wrong is that, after 15 minutes, 9 and a new doll companion decide to rescue their friend from the monster HQ. Seeing it through the telescope, the ominous tower stands reminiscent of Mordor and, just as with Elijah Woods' other famous diminutive character, we fully expect the film to consist of a long perilous journey and the trials and tribulations faced along the way.

But they get there in the next 5 minutes.

From then on, we already feel like we have seen the worst there is to see. We've already faced the 'end-of-level baddie', if you like, and so, storytelling-wise, we're now in no-man's land.

Then the rest of the film continues in the same vein, with the next big scare not too far away and never really allowing us the time to pause and reflect on where all the action is taking us. This is a real travesty when you take into account the film's ridiculously short 80-minute running time.

This may seem like a small complaint given that a large appeal of this movie is based towards kids, but the film actually feels unfocused in that respect. Here we have a film about easily identifiable characters, in the form of children's toys, rising up against what are essentially bad robots. At the same time, the film starts with a dead body, contains strong aspects of spirituality and ultimately concerns what makes up the essence of the human soul.

All of which is actually quite interesting and, along with the glorious animation, keeps the film watchable. It just seems that, as 'cartoon' movies increasingly push their boundaries and become quality pictures, 9 is trying too hard to straddle the adult/child appeal. Whereas Pixar's Up is the perfect example of how this can be achieved to outstanding effect, 9 is a case study for how easily it can not work out.

More:  9  Animation
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