On paper that may seem rather obvious, considering that this is a post-apocalyptic war story that follows the extinction of all mankind, but judging from the promotional material that touted the production credit of one Tim Burton one might think this is another edgy, but safe enough animated flick along the lines of Corpse Bride or The Nightmare Before Christmas! Cousin, it's not that.
9 begins in a decidedly Edward Scissorhands (minus the smiles) way as a small automaton wakes up next to the corpse of his creator having no idea who he is or why he's there. The one clue to his identity can be found emblazoned on his burlap body... the number "9". Yeah... an intelligent robot with cloth instead of metal for skin! There's something you don't see in every Sci Fi Film. And it's something that our boy 9 hasn't seen before either... and he'd probably tell us so if he had a voice.
Fortunately a chance encounter introduces 9 to a one-eyed adventurer that shares a similar design, named "2" (Martin Landau). Even better, 2 installs a Doll's voicebox into 9 (helping him to sound an awful lot like Elijah Wood) and gives him his first clues to who he is and why he's there. Not-so-fortunately, they both have another chance-encounter with a hideous Robot Monster called "The Beast". This sets 2 and 9 on a continuing Nightmare with no Christmas at the end of the story.
Of course, along the way, 9 (who can count, by the way) has to meet a NUMBER of other characters. 9 meets with the opposition of 1 (Christopher Plummer) and his right-hand muscle 8 (Fred Tatasciore). That's not a good thing when 9 is on a mission of mystery, mercy and monster-fighting. Almost as bad is the fact that 6 (Crispin Glover) isn't much help, in that he's consumed with the frightening visions that fuel his art, nor is 5 (John C. Reilly) who is much more of a creator and nurturer than a fighter. On the flip side, 9 also meets the heroic 7 (Jennifer Connelly) who is not content simply hiding from this broken world, but instead wants to do something about it. On her team are the silent twins 3 and 4 who act as the storytellers and historians that can fill in all the blanks of just what went wrong with Planet Earth.
The answers to these questions are accented by some of the more disturbing and dark visions in this futuristic drama. While there is no onscreen blood, the war-time violence is unrelenting and chaotic. The core of the story revolves around a benevolent Scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) and a malevolent Dictator (Tom Kane)! What follows makes it clear that "The Beast" was the tip of the Iceberg when it comes to War Machines and the news media (represented by the voices of Tatasciore and Helen Wilson) can only stand and stare like the rest of this crumbling civilization. Like I said... this isn't for kids.
It's a fascinating, if familiar, story filled with amazing visuals (the CGI Animation here is incredible) and a well-imagined history. However, 9 suffers from an incomplete feeling as if entire chapters of the story are missing. This doesn't reduce the film to a low-quality rehash of post-apocalyptic robot flicks (which are everywhere), it just means that screenwriter Pamela Pettler (who also wrote the screenplay to Corpse Bride) may have known more than she was telling. Or perhaps the more was still locked in the noggin of creator Shane Acker, who also directed. This could be because 9 is actually an expansion of the Oscar-nominated short film by Acker, also called 9! Acker has created an amazing mythology here with some awesome ups and downs and side to sides, not to mention both beautiful and disturbing visuals (with some impressive audio choices to match)! The only sad part is that not enough fully translates to the screen to elevate 9 from a "good" to a "great" film.
"Great" 9 may not quite be, but it's more than worth the time to watch for its visuals, its story, its acting and its message(s). It may not be for little kids, but teenagers and young adults will find a lot to like here. In many ways 9 feels like a modernized and more complete version of Wizards and fans of that film (at least the right fans) might eat this one up with a spork!
It's ugly, it's beautiful, it's engrossing, it's incomplete, it's fascinating, it's heavy, it's uplifting and its scary as hell. Taken for all with all 9 gets Three and one half Stars out of Five! It's a Mechanized Nightmare that somehow leaves you feeling pretty good at the end... and even though a good bit of it feels familiar there still seems to be just a bit missing. I'll look for that (and you) in the Next Reel!
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