Reviewed by Heather Wixson
Featuring the voices of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, and Crispin Glover
Directed by Shane Acker
Distributed by Focus Features
9 is the animated tale of a world destroyed by its own need for technology. In the wake of this destruction, all that is left are violent machines that scour for anything that might have survived and a small group of creatures created by the scientist responsible for the ultimate killing machine that wiped out the population.
The scientist, woeful over the machine he created, decides to make small burlap-covered creatures as an act of redemption (maybe even as a way to recreate humanity). All numbered sequentially, they represent the various human qualities of the scientist and when number 9 (Wood) is born, the elderly scientist is left dead on the floor, and now 9 is has to figure out just what he is and what the world is around him.
While initially exploring, he runs into number 2 (Landau) who bravely sacrifices himself to one of the scouring machines so that 9 can escape. 9 realizes that he needs to rescue number 2 and on his journey comes across a group of the other creatures created by the scientist, including number 1 (Plummer), who thinks that hiding from the machines is better than fighting them.
9 and number 5 (Reilly) set out to find where 2 is being held captive and come across the reclusive number 7 (Connelly), the lone wolf of the group who has some serious trust issues, but definitely packs a mean punch. The trio find number 2, but in the midst of their rescue, 9 unknowingly awakens the previously mentioned ultimate killing machine.
The group is faced with the ultimate terror: a machine that not only can create other destructive machines to hunt them down, but is also capable of stealing their souls, their humanity, and ultimately their lives.
Director Acker brings his unique stitch-punk vision alive that he first created through his 2004 Academy Award nominated short film but on a much larger scale now. With a feature-length film, Acker was given an opportunity to really flesh out his characters and explore the idea of what makes us human and just how as a society we need to be able to work together for a better existence.
What’s also remarkable in terms of 9 is that it doesn’t “feel” animated. I know the movie is filled with vocal performances only, but somehow I felt like I was seeing the actors on the screen and not creatures. Wood’s performance of the titular character 9 is just wonderful, and Connelly’s voice just sparks on screen whenever 7 is featured.
One of my favorite characters that isn’t as predominantly featured as the others is number 6 (voiced by Glover). 6 is the one who has figured out how to destroy the machine, but because of his manic behaviors (with slight autistic tendencies), no one listens to him. Glover plays the character with a quiet restraint and an almost playful demeanor. It makes me long to see Glover working regularly again on quality projects.
As a bit of an animation geek, I remember the awe I felt the first time I saw a trailer for 9, and somehow the trailers don’t even do the movie justice in terms of all of the startling but stunning visuals used throughout. The art directors and animators on 9 somehow find a way to make the devastation of our planet look beautiful and haunting all at the same time.
9 manages to have an underlying socio-political message, an exploration of the many facets of human nature, and still finds a way to be a breathtaking and entertaining animated feature that leaves you engrossed until the very end. That’s no small feat and is due to Acker’s abilities as a storyteller.
Be warned though – 9 is not a Disney movie by any means. There are some sequences that will definitely be too harsh for the younger crowd, but the animated feature is something that I feel audiences ten and up will enjoy. The movie does end on a bit of a downer, but somehow it doesn’t feel like a downer – which, again, is due to Acker’s ability to show cause and effect in a manner that is both realistic but still satisfying for audiences.
9 has a very Coraline-esque tone to it, so if that’s a film you enjoyed, then this movie is definitely something worth checking out on the big screen.
4 out of 5
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