Movie review: 9

Nathan Smith

     Shane Acker’s highly anticipated CGI animated movie, 9, hit theaters September 9, with the promise that it was “not your little brother’s animated movie.”  Early into its release 9 has already grossed roughly 19 million dollars worth of revenue.  At first glance, this would seem like a successful release, but with an estimated budget of up to 33 million dollars, 9 did not impress as much as I expected it would.

     9 follows nine characters as they try to survive the post-apocalyptic world that they were awakened into.  They were constructed to carry on the human race – how this happened is fairly vague — and to fight the murderous machines that were responsible for ending the world in the first place.  Not only must these stitchpunks stop these robotic beasts, but they must try to understand what they actually are, and what their next purpose is on the deserted Earth, after eliminating the mechanized threat.  Again, this part is pretty vague.

     This feature film was based on a ten minute short film – by the same name – created by the award-winning film director, designer and animator, Shane Acker.  The short film was fairly close to its feature film follower, still featuring most of the stitchpunks in a relatively simplistic, voiceless experience.  The original theme of this film was simple in thought: newly awakened beings would now learn the basics of the world around them – for example, how positive and negative charges can ignite a light bulb.  But the feature takes, not just a short step in expanding the premise, but a flying leap, and I can’t really say for sure if it was in the right direction.

     Unlike the feature, the ten-minute short only had stitchpunks 9 and 5, and 5 was only briefly mentioned in a shortly intercut scene.  But in this expansion on Shane Acker’s imaginative concept, every stitchpunk to 9 is seen; each holding some significant purpose in the overall easily grasped and slightly dry storyline of the movie.

     Perhaps it was the idea of expanding ten minutes into eighty, but 9 started strong, and fell to a  dulling plot that began to lose my interest.

     When I went into the theater, I had already seen the short film, and I was excited to see a movie that was backed by the production talents of Shane Acker and Tim Burton, however, I did not find exactly what I was looking for.  With a PG-13 rating, I thought of a movie that would be intense, and carried the sort of pseudo-gruesomeness that Tim Burton was sure to try and smuggle into the movie, but that notion faded away after the first twenty minutes of watching the film.

     This is not to say that the film wasn’t full of action.  Watching these nine rag dolls take on the war-machine of the future was one of the more interesting sides of the film that kept me in my seat.  With the well choreographed fight scenes that took place between the machines and stitchpunks, I easily lost the thought that these beings were, in reality, only the size of dolls and small animals.

     The character development of these nine figures is sort of lacking, but well executed on average.  Certain characters, such as 3 and 4 (a duo of speechless rag dolls with projectors for eyes) I would have liked to not only have heard, but seen more of.  Overall, the plot mostly followed Elijah Wood’s character – 9 – as he adjusted to the post-apocalyptic, cat-and-mouse scenario that comes with being chased down and constantly attacked by the machines.

     Although the characters weren’t exactly as deep as I would have liked to see on film, they were, in fact, described in far more depth through several marketing campaigns that gave viewers insight into the personalities of the rag dolls, months in advance of the release.  One of my personal favorite campaigns was the creation of a Facebook account, posing as the scientist in the film.  Through a series of status updates, the scientist used this account as a sort of dear-diary to document his work on the stitchpunks.  The scientist would go on to describe each character’s personality, and what kind of human trait they resembled most – like curiosity, courage, oafishness and the oh so common superiority complex.

     Knowing that I may sound pretty critical of this movie, let me just say that I really did enjoy the action and the violence – the kind of violence you can get from watching rag dolls being mauled by robots.  Also, the animation was top of the line.  However, it was the story, and even the visual imagery, that really kept me going with this film.

     By the time the credits started rolling, I found myself actually wanting to know more.  To avoid spoilers, I’ll just mention that the ending requires a bit of do-it-yourself improvisation with your own imagination.  But perhaps this is Shane Acker’s style of directing: to leave much to the viewer’s thoughts.

     All and all, the movie was pretty great. There was stunning choreographing and operation of the CGI protagonists, well-cast voice actors and a soundtrack that made for quite a decent movie. Even though I was disappointed by the lack of Tim Burton flare that comes with movies with his name on them (like Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.), I have to say that I did, for the most part, enjoy this movie.

     So if you enjoy simple, quiet movies that have an understandable plot line, then watch the short film.  But if you like the loud crashes, the hair-raising surprises , and devilish machines popping out of almost nowhere, or if you just like the idea of watching stitched together dolls run around and save the world, check out 9.