Review: “9″ has Looks: Ten; Dance: Three

9light

There’s honestly not too much to be said about the new animated movie 9 other than it’s a well-realized vision of the quirky, unique and occasionally quite disturbing universe of young director Shane Acker. And it might be the best advertisement for dolls since Child’s Play.

As a peek into the mind of an up-and-coming animator (who is aided in his efforts by the equally dark and quirky Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, who brought us Night Watch and Day Watch), it’s a nimble and eye-catching success. But ultimately this story about the survival of humanity seems to be lacking a bit of soul.

9doll

In the future, mankind has been undone by the very machines that it created to sew its clothes and can its vegetables and what-not, and into this rather familiar post-apocalyptic landscape enters “9″, a small ragdoll with big eyes, a zipper up his torso and a strange amulet thingy. He doesn’t know where he came from, why he’s there or what he should be doing, but when another doll (“2″) saves him from a half-machine, half-cat-skeleton thing, he learns that there are now a handful of other Cabbage Patch Goths struggling to survive amidst the wreckage of the human race.

The idea that the machines eventually gassed humanity into extinction is rather shocking, as are some of the images early in the film (9 stumbles upon a car holding the corpses of a woman and her child, for example), making it clear that this isn’t exactly Pixar we’re dealing with. But while many of the creatures that the “stitchpunks” (I hate to even repeat that word, but that’s what they’re called, apparently) encounter are nightmarish beyond anything you’d ever see in a Disney movie, the story is ultimately a lightweight, forgettable fable that doesn’t wander as far into adult territory as the ads would like you to believe.

9cat

You’ll likely walk out of 9 discussing the inventive array of monsters it offers more than the plot, and rightly so: The idea that intelligent machines can hastily assemble new life forms out of garbage, bones and car parts is a fresh one that offers loads of possibilities when it comes to creature design. (Fans of Night Watch might notice a nod to the babydoll spider creature from the witch’s apartment in the Baby Snake Monster Thingy that eats several of the dolls.)

9snake

But aside from these clever baddies and a few well-executed action sequences there’s just not much there. It would have been interesting had the dolls been wrapped up in a quest to find their purpose, but they’re simple creatures who stumble blindly, not with a quest’s purpose. (Interestingly, Elijah Wood, who undertook one of the most classic big-screen quests of recent years in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, voices the lead doll.) And while the mystery of where the dolls came from is somewhat intriguing, its resolution is a bit too saccharine for what came before it, and might elicit a laugh or two rather than “ooohs” of wonder.

The other voice actors are fine, although as these aren’t exactly chatty little buggers, there’s not much dialogue to go around. (It’s always nice to see Crispin Glover doing … well, anything, even though he only gets one line here to repeat, ad nauseum.) And there might be some queer theory to be applied to the gender breakdown of the dolls and what it says about the character who created them: It’s interesting that the only real “fighter” of the bunch is also the only confirmed female.

9crispin

In recent years we’ve been fortunate to have been presented with some of the most complex and emotionally engaging animated movies ever made (Wall-E, Persepolis, Up). While 9 falls decidedly short of this watermark, it does bring the unique and striking vision of newcomer Shane Acker to the table – let’s hope that in his next project he tackles a more complex narrative … even if he’s still playing with dolls.

RATING: (OUT OF 5):

ReviewThreeSkully

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Buzz created CampBlood.org in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.