September 19, 2009 by Zack
It’s not very often we get an animated film that isn’t directed toward kids. But it’s even rarer when an animated film that isn’t directed toward kids can find an audience. With Shane Acker’s new “9?, co-produced by Tim Burton, they try to find the middle ground. It’s a shaky ground, but the film does find a groove–thanks to some amazing visuals and creature designs.
The story of “9? is fairly underwhelming–after all, it is based on a short film that Acker made, and even though they brought in some good screenwriters (Pamela Pettler being one, who co-wrote “Corpse Bride”), the narrative still somewhat suffers from all-too-familiar characters and plot lines that are fairly derivative and predictable. The voice actors featured are impressive: John C. Reilly, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, and Crispin Glover. They do their best to bring life to these characters; but, in the end, you still need to give them an ample arc in order for them to emerge from mere stereotypes.
Wood plays “9?, the 9th “stitchpunk” in a small collection of rag-doll like “creatures” designed by “The Scientist” (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer), and his objective is to…basically, survive. There was a massive war between humans and machines, because a military power got hold of The Scientist’s work and used the machines for warfare–of course, the robots rebelled (those pesky things) and it demolished our world. All that is left are the stitchpunks, and even they are close to extinct. The reasons for these creations are not exactly clear, but The Scientist wanted to preserve as much of the human spirit as possible.
And that’s basically what this film is about, in essence. Above the clankiness, drab, and soulless “machines” there is a soul inside, and who can’t relate to that?
As I had said before, it’s the visuals that steal this movie. It’s relatively short, so even the thin plot line is stretched only a bit too much to be noticeable–but you will be amazed by some of the creations and creatures and robots, and imagery in the film. Some of it is very scary. There is one robot creature in particular that acts as a snake, called The Seamstress–it has the head of a broken doll face. Everyone knows broken doll faces are extremely creepy. They still stare into your soul! The detail is amazing. It’s almost as if you’re watching a video game at times–a very well made video game.
But overall, that’s really all this is. It’s a spectacle. Maybe I’ve grown out of the wonder element of films like this (in a way it reminded me of “The Dark Crystal”), and a younger audience will find more meaning out of this than I. But I would say, it is certainly watchable at any age–above young children, that is.
All in all, it is a worthy film. It’s probably going to slip into cult status and be forgotten about by mainstream America, but that seems to be exactly where it fits. It’s a great movie to look at, just not to think too much about.