The dystopian movie “9” represents the first time the end of the world has come to mainstream animated movies, and it’s an odd theme to try to sell to children. Although the main characters are strange little rag dolls, “9” is no “Toy Story” or “Raggedy Ann” tale.
The premise is simple. Humans have destroyed themselves with technology and war. The audience isn’t told exactly how this transpired, but there are glimpses of battle and human remains to nail the point home. And that’s just in the first five minutes of the film.
The only creatures left alive in this post-apocalyptic bombed-out setting (vaguely reminiscent of post-WWII Europe) are the numbered rag dolls who don’t know why they are there. A bit of mystery surrounds them and their existence. By the end of the movie it is clear this is a moralistic tale that could have been written by Aesop himself.
That isn’t to say the characters don’t capture the imagination from the outset.
They show more expression in those mechanical camera-lens-like eyes than one might expect. They are endearing and have distinct personalities (no doubt due to the movie’s voice talents), which makes the tragedy that befalls a few of them that much more heart rending.
The animation itself is fresh and original. And thanks to Tim Burton’s help in producing it, it has the appeal of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and had potential to become another cult classic.
But Shane Acker’s promising directorial debut falls flat.
Instead of letting the characters thrive in this environment, they are shackled to a political message that is as subtle as a hammer over the head. If the narrated introduction wasn’t a big enough clue, the last few lines of the film, delivered with a cute effect that acknowledges the presence of a camera, drive the moral of the story home. Didn’t anyone learn from “Happy Feet?”
Despite the creative possibilities here, and the movie’s superior animation art, the plot leaves a lot to be desired. It’s something one has seen a thousand times before, and in the end, it is clumsily delivered.