“Our world is ending. However, life must go on.”: ‘9’ Review
To cap off Apocalypse month, Shane Acker’s 9 serves as an excellent send off to this month’s theme of apocalyptic despair.
Based on his Oscar-nominated short film of the same name, 9 is a stunning piece of science fiction that is thematically ambitious and wonderfully animated. The film tells the story of a group of rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world hunted by terrifying and fierce mechanical beings bent on exterminating them. Humanity is gone, and the only key to stopping the mechanical threat lies in a rag doll named 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood).
9 carries a lot of the hallmarks of its producer Tim Burton (Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, Frankenweenie, Mars Attacks!) including a group of outcasts rising against a greater challenge and a wonderfully stylish world that feels entirely lived in. However Acker’s film is a bit short for its sprawling story, and it's missing a bit of a heart to have the memorable impact that it wants to present fully. It's is packed with ambition, it even aspires to have themes about humanity’s hubris, technology, and a hero’s journey, but if only we could’ve spent more time with the characters and the world it would’ve made for a science fiction classic.
Visually, though, the film is spectacular. With a style of animation that resembles stop motion crossed with detailed CG visuals, 9 is a beautiful film to behold. The world that Acker and his collaborators have created is one breathtaking post-apocalyptic scenario filled with dust, decay and a decomposing nature. Every single frame looks like it has been painstakingly animated to look as decomposed as humanly possible but that is also where the film excels is in its visuals.
Aside from Wood, who leads the cast in a wonderfully solid turn, the film also has the talents of John C. Reilly (his 5 is one of the scene stealers), Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover and even Martin Landau. It is a small cast, but they make these characters come alive through heartfelt vocal performances.
Even though the film lacks a bit more of a soul and a little bit more time to develop the characters, there’s a lot of really great stuff to look out for in 9. Plus, you have to admire the ambition that Acker presents: one that doesn’t shy away from introducing the world that is cruel and dark and can snatch you up at any moment. Some of the visuals are worth the PG-13 rating that the film has, and it aspires to something greater as a science fiction tale, but it just doesn’t quite stick the emotional landing to make it a true classic.
As a whole it is worth watching just for the visuals, the cast and the world that Acker creates in the film – it is stylish, original and dark – truly unlike anything you are likely to see in the realm of animation.