Movie Review: 9

9-bigIt’s always nice to see someone make an animated feature that forgoes the toddler set in order to try something more grown-up. However, making a movie that’s not appropriate for kids is not the same as making a movie for adults, and that is where “9” loses its way. It contains some dynamite animation, along with action sequences that make “Jurassic Park” look like, well, child’s play. But who is this movie’s target audience? The story doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to satisfy adults – which makes sense, considering it was originally a short film that its creator Shane Acker has fleshed out to make an equally short full-length feature – and the tone is far too bleak to appeal to teenagers. Goth kids might like it, though. No wonder Tim Burton signed on as producer.

The movie begins in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) has just “woken up.” He’s a rag doll in a laboratory, and he has no idea who he is or if there is anyone else out there like him. Eventually he runs into some other dolls, led by the chicken hawk-ish 1 (Christopher Plummer). 9 wants to rescue 2 (Martin Landau), who was abducted by a cat-like mechanical creature, but 1 forbids it. Eventually, 9 recruits 5 (John C. Reilly) to join him on a secret rescue mission, and gains the valuable assistance of skilled fighter 7 (Jennifer Connelly) along the way. But finding the beast turns out to be the easy part; there is a far bigger beast that 9 inadvertently awakens, putting all the dolls in grave danger.

The movie’s premise recalls an episode of “The Simpsons,” where Sideshow Bob sends out a television broadcast demanding that all TV stations go off the air, threatening to detonate a nuclear weapon if his demands aren’t met. Bob then comes back on-screen and says, “By the way, I’m aware of the irony of using TV in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.” “9” pulls a similar stunt, using cutting-edge technology in order to warn its viewers of the evils of technology. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s still talking out of both sides of its mouth.

The message isn’t the movie’s main problem, though. “9” suffers from too much plot and too little story, resulting in a viewing experience much like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” There may be a whole bunch of shit getting blow’d up every few minutes, but so what? None of the characters has enough personality to merit emotional investment. Even when certain characters died, they were so interchangeable that I sometimes lost track of whose death was taking place.

“9” worked as a short film because it didn’t require any character development. You met a rag doll, he had a problem, he solved it, roll credits. That approach doesn’t fly with full-length movies; even the bleakest story has to have some heart, and you have to work twice as hard to create it when your protagonists aren’t human.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

This review originally ran September 9, 2009 on

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