9

In a weird post-apocalyptic world, a troop of rag dolls fight roving mechanical toys for survival.  It’s Toy Story meets Terminator.  The result is an atmospheric, beautifully animated film that leaves me more excited about first time director Shane Acker’s promise than his actual execution in this case.

9 is based on Acker’s Academy Award nominated short, of the same name, which was 11 minutes long and completely without dialog.  Not only did it snag him a nomination and a Master’s degree in animation from UCLA, it also brought him to the attention of Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov who are listed as producers on the feature length version of the film. Acker’s aesthetic seems to resonate with Burton’s so it’s a good match.

The story centers around 9, voiced by Elijah Wood, who wakes up in this grim world and quickly falls in with a group of similar rag dolls who are hiding in a church from a cat-like mechanical creature. 2, voiced by Martin Landau, the first rag doll 9 meets, is carried away by this creature. 9 mounts a rescue with 5 voiced by John C. Reilly over the objections of 1, voiced by Christopher Plummer. The mission goes wrong and they wind up waking a robot that can manufacture more of the deadly machines that plague them, as well as suck their souls out of their bodies.

There’s nothing to complain about from a technical standpoint. The animation is smooth; the design is beautiful. There is a mood to it that makes if mysterious and foreboding. The problem is that there really isn’t a clear audience for this film. The plot is dark and along with some of the images could be disturbing for younger kids. At the same time, the allegory is a little too obvious for adults and young adults. Also there’s no characterization. The dolls are as bland as the numbers they use for names.

What it all means is that I’m looking forward to Shane Acker’s next film.

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