Wednesday, February 3, 2010

9: Out of 10, Essentially

9,shane acker,movie poster,tim burton,timur bekmembetov

I like cartoons. I especially like cartoons geared for adults, or at the very least older teens. Though many cried shenanigans at the evident similarities between Shane Acker's 9 and the game Little Big Planet, the similarities are superficial and at the very least unfounded. 9 is a sprawling, fast-paced dark fantasy. It starts too fast, but it keeps a steady pace and eventually, the audience catches up. Part Matrix, part Dark Crystal, part Toy Story, it's definitely a post-modern futuristic fairy tale for the new millennium. How's that for a sound bite, huh?

In an undisclosed future, deadly machines have taken over the planet, seemingly killing all living things. A misunderstood scientist creates a super-brain machine which inevitably churns out deadly Rube Goldbergian machines, warring with humanity. To save life, this same scientist built nine machines, each imbued with a portion of his soul. The ninth machine awakens with no understanding of this world, stumbles across the other eight machines, and makes a final stand against the re-awakened machine brain to restore life to Earth.

It's rare for an animated film to be so bleak. It's completely refreshing. Shane Acker's personal stamp is all over this film, and it's very clear that this is a personal vision. The characters are interesting; they represent the nine parts of a man's soul, yet have different personalities, strengths, and appearances. Even though he supposedly created the 9 concurrently, the materials used to construct them seem different; additionally, the length of time between the first doll and the last seems pretty ambiguous.

At first, it's hard to get into, simply because it launches into the story when 9 awakens. The reason behind the existence of the dolls isn't revealed until halfway through the film. Up until that point, it's primarily for the enjoyment of the computer generated effects, the bleak, stark apocalyptic world that these tiny dolls inhabit. And when you first see a mechanized robot with a cat's skull and razor claws? Or the pterodactyl made out of knives and scissors? That is some interesting stuff.

Overall, it's a visually stunning achievement in computer animation, and refreshing to see it from a basically independent animation team (i.e. not from Dreamworks Animation, Disney, Pixar, etc.). It's as cute and fantastically frightening as you're liable to see the apocalypse. Oh, yeah, and it has a pretty stellar voice cast: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, John C. Riley, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly... All great actors and lend superbly emotive voices to these odd little burlap dolls.

I'll have to give it four crazy-ass flying razor-bird monstrosity things out of five, or four oddly Nazi-ish human oppression turned death-machine fodder out of five.

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