'9' is not so fine
What an absolutely gorgeous and intriguing yet entirely underdeveloped and sadly shallow world the film 9 takes place in. It's like watching a painting come to life, and then realizing that the world of the painting is only as deep as its inks. Or, more aptly in this case, watching a perfectly good idea for a short film get stretched out into a full length movie and injected with a bit of Hollywood.
The latter is more apt because of the fact that this is exactly what 9 is. Adapted from the the Academy Award nominated short film of the same name, 9 is the story of nine living rag dolls (gamers out there will be reminded of LittleBigPlanet, though 9 came first) who find themselves living in an utterly demolished world where humans and machines have fought each other to the death leaving behind only the nine doll people, a cryptic message from a dead scientist and robotic dog-skeleton beast. The story begins with the awakening of the ninth rag doll and his exploration of the world he finds himself in.
He eventually finds the other nine dolls. The dolls, led by 1, are living in a church hiding from the creature (religious and Greek myths play a massive part in the film) until 9 comes along and starts to shake things up, eventually accidentally triggering the rebirth of the big, bad machine that builds all the other machines. The nine aren't sure why they exist or where they're from, but they do know that a big robot building machines that want to kill them is a bad thing, and so they go to destroy it.
The world the film takes place in is without a doubt one of the more creative ideas to come out of a movie in a long while. Director Shane Acker, who also created the original short, has a wicked imagination that leads to some pretty creepy robot creations. The nine rag dolls are also deceptively well designed and instantly likable. Acker's direction and pacing are also superb throughout the film, with action sequences being true edge-of-your-seat affairs and the movie being immensely well paced for the time it has. Acker has some true talent for animation, which makes 9 ring far deeper than normal animated film. While mostly acceptable for children, 9 is far more geared toward those who will understand its themes on life, the soul and mortality.
Unfortunately, those themes aren't presented in a very concrete world. The gaps in logic and plot are just too big for 9's good looks to overcome. By the time the film rolls around to its immensely disappointing and out of place ending it feels about as hollow as an unstuffed rag doll. There are all these great ideas floating around, but none of them ever come together to make a truly cohesive whole and the film suffers a death toll because of it. Maybe it was the forced Hollywoodization of the film or maybe Acker just didn't have enough ideas to go around, but the movie stops being as interesting as it could be around the exact time it needs to truly be interesting. In an ultimate twist of irony for those who have seen the movie, the film lacks soul.
As the first attempt by a talented animation director, 9 is truly a pleasurable film, but as a whole it falls flat far more than it should. While creativity and great ideas might get a movie off the ground there has to be more there to really make it work. Hopefully in the future Acker will be able to piece it all together, because if that is ever the case PIXAR could finally have a fantastic rival for the digital animation throne.
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